Secret Agent follows a by-now familiar pattern: a costume change, a re-shuffling of the cast, and a mix of songs that are individually impressive but collectively less so. The record ranges from life-some Latin jazz ("Central Park") to haunting Vangelis-like instrumentals ("Bagatelle #4"), with Chick Corea adding and subtracting instruments as the arrangements dictate. The steady forces behind the music include a new rhythm section (Tom Brechtlein and fretless bassist Bunny Brunel), familiar faces Gayle Moran and Joe Farrell, and a kicking horn section that gets a couple of well-deserved cameos. Corea's keyboards are generally soft in tone here, and though that's a by-product of the instruments he chooses (Fender Rhodes, Mini-Moog), the compositions take the softness a step further by building arrangements around Moran's airy voice (notably "Drifting") or exploring the "voices" of various instruments on a trombone/keyboard dialogue like "Mirage." Only the familiar sound of the players from song to song holds the album together; otherwise, as the aptly titled "Fickle Funk" demonstrates, Corea isn't interested in trying the same thing twice. The good news is that this does lend itself to portable cuts -- "The Golden Dawn" (imagine a jazzier version of Vangelis) and "Hot News Blues" (in which Al Jarreau's voice snakes along a bittersweet melody) were made available as promotional singles, though "Glebe St. Blues" has more radio personality than either. Like The Leprechaun and Mad Hatter, Secret Agent is a good sampler, but Corea has released so much music (three records in 1978 alone, not including live dates with Return to Forever and Herbie Hancock issued that year) that his fans can afford to pick and choose. First investigate My Spanish Heart, Friends, and RTF's Romantic Warrior from Corea's late-'70s catalog; then, if you're still curious, seek out Secret Agent.
Secret Agent Review
by Dave Connolly