1. Medieval Overture
2. Señor Mouse
3. The Shadow of Lo / Sorceress
1. After the Cosmic Rain
2. The Romantic Warrior
3. Concierto de Aranjuez/Spain
4. School Days
5. Beyond the Seventh Galaxy
1. Return to Forever: Inside the Music (documentary)
2. After the Cosmic Rain (performance)
3. The Romantic Warrior (performance)
4. The Story of Return to Forever (sneak peek movie trailer)
Chick Corea - Piano, keyboards
Stanley Clarke - Bass guitar, double bass
Lenny White - Drums
Jean-Luc Ponty - Violin
Frank Gambale - Guitars
It was a revelation when I saw Return to Forever (RTF) on tour in Britain in the 1970s. The appeal of Chick Corea's compositions was matched by the tightness of the group's playing. Both qualities are present in this double CD which also includes a DVD of concert excerpts and documentaries about the band. The recordings seem to have been made on their 2011 tour.
The personnel of Return to Forever has changed several times since I saw them. In fact Chick calls this the fourth version of RTF. Guitarist Al Di Meola has been replaced by Frank Gambale, while violinist Jean-Luc Ponty is a welcome addition. I know Gambale best from his work with Steve Smith's group Vital Information, but he actually played with Chick Corea's Elektrik Band more than 20 years ago. I find his guitar solos more accessible than those of Al Di Meola - somehow they make better sense.
Despite the personnel changes, the sound of Return to Forever has
not changed greatly. They still unashamedly play jazz-rock, with Lenny
White's drums indomitably stressing the off-beat, while Stanley Clarke's
bass guitar wizardy provides a solid foundation. Much of the repertoire
is also familiar, including such old favourites as Spain
and Señor Mouse. Some tracks are almost like a heavy
metal version of jazz fusion: implacable and irresistible. Perhaps
this is not surprising, as the sleeve-notes include Metallica's bassist,
Robert Trujillo, saying that he used to encounter many heavy metal
fans at RTF concerts he attended in the 1980s.
Of the individual tracks, Señor Mouse illustrates
RTF's varied tactics, with Ponty and Gambale dropping out for a trio
section featuring Corea's eloquent keyboards. Dynamics are varied
so that the group is not always playing at full power. And Frank Gambale
supplies an excellent guitar solo. Chick starts The Shadow of
Lo on acoustic piano before Jean-Luc Ponty joins in with some
swirling violin - and then the band goes into heavy jazz-rock mode.
Ponty is the vigorous soloist in the first half of his own composition,
Renaissance, but Corea then takes over on acoustic piano,
reminding us what a practised improviser he is in conventional style.
Stanley Clarke follows with a typically mind-blowing solo on double
Clarke is also a star of After the Cosmic Rain, this time on the bass guitar - bending notes unbelievably and scattering notes like a machine gun. Chick Corea's Spain opens with a homage to Joaquin Rodrigo, composer of Concierto de Aranjuez, which inspired Chick's classic version. This performance features a duet between Chick's keyboards and Lenny White's hustling drums, followed by some audience participation. The audience is also aroused by Stanley Clarke's School Days, with its catchy riff. The second CD ends with a short take on Beyond the Seventh Galaxy.
Most of the tunes on the two CDs reappear as excerpts in the opening segment of the DVD, which is a kind of documentary. Called Return to Forever: Inside the Music, it includes interviews with the band members, interpersed with extracts from their concerts. This is followed by two live performances and a short "sneak peek movie trailer" which doesn't tell us much about the group.
This package proves that, decades after it was forned, Return to Forever is still capable of producing music which is melodic as well as powerful. Some critics sneer at jazz-rock but it has become an integral aspect of jazz and Chick Corea is justified in keeping it alive, especially as his band plays it with such precision.