A landmark in Jazz Fusion is released on audiophile vinyl.
Chick Corea – Return To Forever – ECM Records ECM 1022 (1972/2018) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 46:48 *****:
(Chick Corea – electric piano; Joe Farrell – soprano saxophone, flute; Flora Purim – vocals, percussion; Stan Clark – electric bass; double bass; Airto Moreira – drums, percussion)
Jazz Fusion became a controversial musical form in the late 1960’s. Eschewing traditional instrumentation (double bass, acoustic piano, drums), this genre integrated jazz improvisation and harmony with r & b, funk and rock music. At times the music explored unique chord progressions, rhythms and unusual counterpoints. Sometimes the music was predicated on a basic groove that led into a sustained vamp. Either way, Jazz Fusion was noted for extended jams that often included elements of woodwinds and brass. One of the pioneers was Miles Davis. Bitches Brew (1970) became the epitome of fusion. Musicians like Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, John McLaughlin and Chick Corea carried on this new era in bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra, Headhunters, and Return To Forever.
Chick Corea was another pioneer of Jazz Fusion. The Massachusetts native was influenced by his trumpeter father, especially in bebop jazz. At eight he took drum lessons which helped him develop his percussive keyboard and piano style. He replaced Herbie Hancock in Miles Davis’ band, appearing on Filles De Kilimanjaro, In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew. He popularized the use of electric piano (Fender Rhodes), processing the output with a ring modulator. In the early 1970’s, Corea transitioned from avant-garde dissonant jamming to crossover jazz fusion. He formed Return To Forever with Joe Farrell (woodwinds), Stanley Clark (bass), Airto Moreira (drums, percussion) and Flora Purim (vocals). Corea’s career has spanned five decades. He has garnered over 20 Grammy awards (with one as recently as 2015).
ECM Records has released an audiophile vinyl of a classic jazz album, Chick Corea – Return To Forever. Four original Chick Corea compositions showcase the electric piano as the center of this unusual quintet. The album was recorded over a two-day period in February of 1972. The opening title track begins with a gently pulsating run by Corea, who is joined on the second line in vocalese by Purim. Farrell comes in on flute, then electric bass and drums. This gradual layering transitions to a swinging Latin-rock jam. There are tight rhythmic electric piano riffs and some airy flute accents. Moreira and Clarke form a cohesive backbone. The 3-part melodic sequence (piano, flute, voice) returns followed by a second up tempo break. Clarke’s bass grooves along with natural timing. Corea produces a variety of tones as this “new sound” still has a jazz orientation. “Crystal Silence” exudes a meditative ambience in the electric piano opening. Corea adds echo and vibrato that glow with warmth. Joe Farrell’s soprano saxophone offers a sharper counterpoint. The piece centers around Chick Corea’s creativity as he wraps around Farrell with a bluesy touch. The subtlety of Airto Moreora’s percussion work adds an atmospheric nuance with a shimmering chime On “What Game Shall We Play Today” the ensemble approximates a jaunty Brazilian vibe. Purim gets to do some vocal fronting with lyrics. Corea and Farrell (this time on flute) harmonize gracefully and effectively play off each other. Farrell’s elegant solos have a soaring quality.
In embracing the musical spirit of fusion, the two-part “suite” “Sometime Ago – La Fiesta” is compelling on many levels. Framed by Spanish imagery, Corea starts things off with a spacey, rolling melody line that is lyrical. While less structured than the previous arrangements, there is a core potency. Clarke cuts loose on a double bass solo that is as prominent as a lead guitar. Farrell inject another wistful flute interlude (maybe two) against a bowed double bass. The cadence is amped up as the trio (electric piano, double bass, drums) rocks out. Flora Purim brings her quirky alto voice to interpret the aspirational words. Corea and Farrell (still on flute) exchange and complement each other with finesse before Purim returns. Then some hushed moments featuring an achingly beautiful electric piano are spellbinding. Next, “La Fiesta” morphs into a global Latin jazz romp. The soprano adds exotic accents to the musical aesthetics. Muscling up to another energetic level, the group swings with drums and cymbals. Undaunted, the band turns up the heat and explodes into a faster, post-bop frenzy. The 23:18 opus cruises to a melodic close.
Chick Corea – Return To Forever is more than an early translation of Jazz Fusion. It is an expanded musical context that combines jazz elements with global contexts. ECM has done their customary superlative job in producing this vinyl upgrade. Corea’s instrumental eloquence is captured with deft agility. The electric piano has very little distortion, and the glowing echo and vibration feel organic, not studio-effect laden. Farrell’s soprano exhibits both mellowness and jolting sharpness. Small percussion details are in the understated mix, and the bass/drum is sustained in the lower levels. The stereo separation is flawless. Michael Manoogian’s impressionistic album photo looks compelling in full 12” frame (one of many reasons vinyl is resurgent). The top-notch protective sleeve is a nice touch.
Side I: Return to Forever; Crystal Slience; What Game Shall We Play Today
Side II: Sometime Ago-La Fiesta