Return To Forever – Returns (2009)

FrontCover1.jpgReturns is a live album by the fusion band Return to Forever. Released in 2009, it is the first recording by the band after a hiatus of 32 years. A video recording of the band’s live performances from the “Returns” tour at Montreux, Switzerland and (bonus material) Clearwater, Florida was also released in 2009 by Eagle Rock Entertainment as Return to Forever – Returns: Live at Montreux 2008. (by wikipedia)

When Chick Corea reassembled the members of the most commercially successful version of his Return to Forever ensemble in 2008 and embarked on an extensive tour, it was the jazz fusion event of the year. Younger fans barely born when the ensemble’s high watermark, Romantic Warrior, was released in 1976 could finally see the group in the flesh. Based on this sizzling double-CD document culled from the tour’s highlights, 32 years didn’t dim the quartet’s enthusiasm or uncanny instrumental precision and interplay. It includes extended versions of half the tunes on Romantic Warrior, the title cut from No Mystery, and three selections from Where Have I Known You Before, with that disc’s “Song to the Pharaoh Kings” clocking in at a whopping 27 minutes. Corea keeps his synths reproducing the ’70s sounds of the original recordings, which is great for those who want to relive the albums, but brings a somewhat dated touch to much of this. In reality, there are very few bands in 2008 creating this space-progressive jazz-rock fusion, and certainly none with the fine-tuned talents of these guys.

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Those chops are displayed early on a 13-minute version of “Vulcan Worlds” that can only be described as explosive — so much so that it elicits multiple rounds of rapturous applause as each member takes his turn in the spotlight. It’s especially exciting to hear guitarist Al di Meola once again shredding with his old band, since much of his recent material has been acoustic and world music-oriented. Stanley Clarke remains one of jazz’s finest bassists, grounding the sound but also taking dynamic solos that place his instrument in a lead guitar position. Hearing him trading frenzied, electrified licks with di Meola is one of the many pleasures of this reunion.

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But the band is intent on showing its quieter side too, with individual and duo collaborations that are predominantly unplugged. First up, Corea and di Meola join forces on “Children’s Song #3,” then the guitarist romps on acoustic as the piece ends with Corea returning to join in on his famed “Spain.” Disc two tamps down the fireworks by featuring lengthy acoustic improvisational work from Corea, Clarke, and drummer Lenny White in that order, that provides a contrast, some might say breathing room, to the fiery group compositions, but also drag down the energy and slow the show’s momentum. For jazz students, this is a mini master class for each instrument, yet how often others will return to these sections that comprise nearly half an hour of the second platter’s running time is questionable. A 12-minute “bonus track” of “500 Miles High,” a song from Light as a Feather, the RTF album with an earlier version of the band that did not include di Meola or White, is tacked on to the second disc. The set closes with producer Sir George Martin presenting the BBC Lifetime Achievement Award to the band, Corea’s brief acceptance speech, and a short acoustic performance of “Romantic Warrior.” It should be noted that this album’s sleeve photos are from the associated DVD of the band’s Montreux 2008 set, but only one tune here was recorded at that performance. (by Hal Horowitz)

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Personnel:
Stanley Clarke (bass)
Chick Corea (keyboards, synthesizer)
Al Di Meola (guitar)
Lenny White (drums)

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Tracklist:

CD 1:
01. Opening Prayer (Corea) 2.04
02. Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy (Corea) 3.44
03. Vulcan Worlds (Clarke) 13.45
04. Sorceress (White) 11.22
05. Song To The Pharaoh Kings (Corea) 27.14
06. Al’s Solo, including (Corea, DiMeola, Piazzolla) 8.54
06.01. Children’s Song #3 (duet with Chick Corea) (Corea)
06.02. Passion Grace & Fire (Di Meola)
06.03. Mediterranean Sundance (Di Meola)
06.03. Café 1930 (Piazzolla)
06.04. Spain (duet with Chick Corea) (Corea)
07. No Mystery (Corea) 8.53

CD 2:
08. Friendship (Corea) /Solar (Davis) 8.53
09. Romantic Warrior (I) (Corea) 7.20
10. El Bayo de Negro (*) (Clarke) 11.26
11. Lineage (White) 7.39
12. Romantic Warrior (II) (Corea) 3.03
13. Duel Of The Jester And The Tyrant (Corea) 14.04
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14. 500 Miles High (Corea) 12.48
15. BBC Lifetime Achievement Award to RTF as presented by Sir George Martin, including a performance of ‘Romantic Warrior’ (Corea) 8.20

(*) one of the finest bass solos ever !

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Return To Forever feat. Chick Corea – Where Have I Known You Before (1974)

lpfrontcover1Where Have I Known You Before is the fourth album by jazz-rock fusion band Return to Forever, the second since leader Chick Corea had “revamped” the line-up and moved towards electric instrumentation, playing jazz fusion with clear influences from progressive rock.

While the style of music did not change much since the previous album, Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy (1973), important changes took place in the band’s sound and line-up. Chick Corea, for instance, had started to use synthesizers (most notably the Moog Minimoog and ARP Odyssey synthesizers), developing the distinctive sound he became known for. An equally important change in the band was the replacement of guitarist Bill Connors with the then 20-year-old virtuoso Al Di Meola. Connors left the band before the recording of this album to concentrate on his acoustic solo career. Overall, the band developed a clearer, more focused sound and style. This was due in part to the personnel changes, the implementation of new technology, and new playing techniques, but it was also a product of more careful recording and production in the studio.

Between the album’s longer tracks are three of Corea’s short piano improvisations that all bear a title that begins “Where Have I…”. The first track is Stanley Clarke’s “Vulcan Worlds”, which features some melodic motifs that would also appear on Clarke’s self-titled second solo album Stanley Clarke the same year. The song proved Clarke “one of the fastest and most facile electric bassists around”. Each player except for drummer Lenny White takes long solos. The next long track is Lenny White’s composition “The Shadow of Lo”, a complex piece with many changes in mood. The last track on Side A is Corea’s “Beyond the Seventh Galaxy”, a sequel to his “Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy”, the title track from the group’s previous album.

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Side B begins with the collective jam “Earth Juice”. Most of Side B is taken up by Corea’s 14-minute epic “Song to the Pharaoh Kings”, a song notable for its use of the harmonic minor scale. The track has a long keyboard intro, after which Chick Corea is joined by the full band, and an “eastern” theme appears. Each member of the band plays a long solo.

This Return to Forever set finds guitarist Al DiMeola debuting with the pacesetting fusion quartet, an influential unit that also featured keyboardist Chick Corea, electric bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White. On this high energy set, short interludes separate the main pieces: “Vulcan Worlds,” “The Shadow of Lo,” “Beyond the Seventh Galaxy,” “Earth Juice” and the lengthy “Song to the Pharoah Kings.” Acoustic purists are advised to avoid this music, but listeners who grew up on rock and wish to explore jazz will find this stimulating music quite accessible. (by Scott Yanow)

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Personnel:
Stanley Clarke (bass, organ, bell tree, chimes)
Chick Corea (keyboards, synthesizers, percussion)
Al Di Meola (guitar)
Lenny White (drums, percussion)

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Tracklist:
01. Vulcan Worlds (Clarke) 7.51
02. Where Have I Loved You Before (Corea) 1.02
03. The Shadow of Lo (White) 7.32
04. Where Have I Danced With You Before (Corea) 1.14
05. Beyond The Seventh Galaxy (Corea) 3.13
06. Earth Juice (Corea/Clarke/White/Di Meola) 3.46
07. Where Have I Known You Before (Corea) 2.20
08. Song To The Pharoah Kings (Corea) 14.21

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