Thursday, August 07, 2008

Considerable Sounds: The Triumphant Return of - Return To Forever

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By DC Music Editor Benjamin New

Field Report: Intelligence
Gathered On Artistic
Insurrection Dossier

Return To Forever...08
Return to Forever's show on Tuesday night at the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia received more standing ovations than than than the combined scores of teams in the average (or above average) Super Bowl.

The enthusiastic ovations were to be expected - after a 25 year drought, the rain is welcomed as royalty. The legendary jazz fusion quartet rose to fame in the 1970s, with it's groundbreaking recordings that documented the concussions of jazz and rock colliding, but have been absent for 25 years, leaving behind fans who've remained hungry for more of their unique pioneering music.

Chick Corea on piano and keyboards, Stanley Clarke on bass, Al Di Meola on guitar and Lenny White on drums, have all had important roles as band leaders, composers, and producers since Return to Forever -- but the band was simply outstanding. There is something no less than magic, a synergy where the whole becomes greater than the sum of it's parts in great bands. Such is the case with RTF.

This is no "comeback-cash in" tour where a band's legacy is muddied. Instead these performances affix the band's place in the jazz pantheon for a new generation, who never heard the band live. The audience was probably 2/3s fans who were there at the band's seminal shows in the 70's but easily another 1/3 were not. While waiting for a fine libation, (did I mention I love the Mann? It's in Fairmount Park and has wonderful amenities - simply the best place I know of for summer concerts) a fellow concert goer mentioned (gushing with excitement) that he never thought he'd ever experience this band live, though he had their recordings. I suspect this was a fairly common story.

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
The show opened with a wonderful performance from Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Just in case you've been duct taped in your basement for the last couple decades- Bela Fleck has reinvented the banjo and the Flecktones (Victor Wooten on bass, Jeff Coffin on woodwinds, and Futureman [Roy Wooten] on percussive devices) have left a trail of dropped jaws wherever they perform. This show was no exception. A dazzling performance well received.


Return To Forever took the stage and after a jovial greeting from founder Chick Corea, launched into "Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy" ( This brought a smile to my face because it is probably my favorite tune from their catalog, the original recording featured the great Bill Connors on guitar but Al did a fine job interpreting the song.)

Chick addresses the crowd

Each band member had a few pertinent words to say between tunes. Lenny White suggested that it was time we took the music back, that he found it implausible that people had "bands" in which no one actually "played" an instrument. ( "This is no boy band", he said of RTF, "...this is a man band." Stanley Clarke (who is from Philadelphia) praised the city's commitment to the arts, and asked the question that one only asks when in the city of brotherly love... "Genos? or Pat's?" Chick Corea, who hails from Boston thanked the crowd from coming out for this "historical or perhaps hysterical evening". Al (a Jersey guy) talked about how great it was to be with his buddies and praised the spirit of the 1970's era of music to some degree.

Stanley Clarke ... more than "Bass- ics"

Stanley Clarke was figuratively and literally the center of the band, standing in the center of the stage, anchoring the music's rhythms along with Lenny White's flawless battery. Clarke launched into miraculous solos. Muscular yet ethereal and sweet. Al DiMeola is simply one of the finest guitarists on the planet by any standard. His soloing was blazing, oozing technique, yet organic and inspired. Chick Corea was in top form, soaring effortlessly on both state of the art digital synths and his "of the era" instruments- the Fender Rhodes Piano with a Mini Moog perched on top. Needless to say, some of the finest moments involved his acoustic piano as well. The band was soulful, elegant, but POWERFUL!

Al remains one true master of guitar

The first half of the show was electric but the acoustic instruments came out for Romantic Warrior and the 2nd half of the show. The encore returned to an electric set. For those of us who invested our adolescence listening to this band, the program was familiar. However they didn't stick to the original recordings note for note. In jazz form, they laid down many of the themes and then took off for improvisation heaven. Many of the Corea compositions are similar to symphonies in terms of movements or themes. The band moves in and out of these themes, embellishes it all with improvisational solos, hits some more themes, more solos and in general creates new living, breathing, sentient versions of their classic music.

Al, Lenny, and Stanley whipping it out!

Interestingly enough, this music, conceived of in the 1970s, remains" futuristic". Why?

The same reason Charles Ives, Harry Partch, and other visionary music remains relevant. It has a quality of intelligence, a depth. It transports us. It opens doorways It takes us beyond the dimensions we normally perceive. It inspires and enlightens.

Aside from this, the band sharply executes the pieces, with improvisations that refresh, renew, and inform. This makes the music a living entity that constantly is adapting to the moment.

Brilliant compositions, players who know their instruments inside and out, playing on an intuitive level, a night to treasure and remember...forever.

Return To Forever

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