Return To Forever, Live at Montreux (2008/2009)
Studio: Eagle Rock Enterprises EE 39182-9
Video: 16:9 widescreen color
Audio: DTS 5.1, DD 5.1, DD Stereo
Extras: Bonus Tracks
Length: 149 minutes
Return to Forever’s roots go all the way back to 1972 and their debut album, Return To Forever, which was a much more jazz-oriented and keyboard-heavy affair that featured current members Chick Corea on keyboards and a very young Stanley Clarke on bass. But the classic and current lineup of the band didn’t come together until 1974, and the album Where Have I Known You Before, which by that time included drummer Lenny White and guitar whiz Al Di Meola. That core group of players stayed together for three albums, culminating in 1977’s Romantic Warrior, the seminal RTF album that’s considered by many one of the high-water marks of the jazz fusion era. Conflicts in the band splintered the group shortly thereafter, and the lukewarm reception the group’s final album (featuring a revamped lineup) received convinced Chick Corea to officially disband the group and concentrate on his solo career. The classic lineup reunited briefly in 1983 for a tour – that featured mostly newly written material – and a potential new album, an experience which Chick Corea described as “disappointing.” The 2008 tour this DVD concert disc from Eagle Rock comes from marked the first time the classic lineup of Return To Forever had played together in over twenty five years – and from the amazing music pouring forth from this phenomenal disc, one can hardly believe they ever broke up. I never got the opportunity to see the group live during their heyday, but I definitely just about wore out my LP copy of Romantic Warrior!
The song selection covers most of Return To Forever’s classic output, and from the opening notes of the group’s first classic tune, “Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy,” I immediately knew that these guys hadn’t lost a step in the two-plus decades since they last occupied the stage together. The chemistry between the players is incredibly dynamic, and the playing is just about otherworldly! One thing I’ve really noticed from a lot of these reunion-type concert offerings from Eagle Rock is that the various personalities have just about abandoned their egos and any problems that might have contributed to their decades-ago breakup and just enjoy playing together onstage, and this disc is a perfect example of that. Al Di Meola’s guitar work is just as dazzling as it was thirty years ago, and Chick Corea’s signature keyboard runs are every bit as impressively mind-boggling as the first time I heard them. And Stanley Clarke and Lenny White anchor the proceedings with incredible precision – Lenny White is a much more accomplished drummer than I ever gave him credit for! Chick Corea’s keyboard solo intro to the classic “Song to the Pharaoh Kings” is just magnificent; close your eyes and listen, and you’d think it was drummer Lenny White’s solo – all the keyboardisms sound much more like percussion than anything else. Classic RTF tunes like “Sorceress,” “No Mystery” and “The Romantic Warrior” come alive in ways that rival the studio recordings, and it’s obvious from the faces of the participants that they’re having a blast! And there’s lots of really good close-up camera work, so you can see the intricate fingering techniques of Di Meola, Clarke and Corea – exactly the sort of thing I look for in a concert film!
I was supposed to receive the Blu-ray release version of this concert, but due to a mix-up with the distributor, I eventually only received the DVD, which now really pains me, because this concert is undeniably one of the best-produced, best-looking and best sounding – not to mention being one of the most anticipated – recent releases I can remember. The DVD is superb in every aspect – I can’t help but believe that the Blu-ray of this 2008 concert would surpass it and set a new benchmark for concert films. The image quality is really excellent for DVD, with good black levels, outstanding contrast and good representation of color. And the DTS surround option I chose was dynamic and immersive – I have to believe the DTS HD MA track on the Blu-ray would be reference quality. And to top it all off, there’s a generous selection of bonus footage from the Clearwater, Florida, date on the U.S. leg of the tour that features an extended version of the classic Romantic Warrior track “Duel of the Jester & the Tyrant.” I was a little unhappy with the artistic direction of the Clearwater footage – it takes an almost Woodstockian approach by splitting the image into multiple segments staggered across the screen. While it’s great to see multiple angles of the onstage action, I’d much prefer to have more straight ahead documentation of the players, but who knows, some might find this approach entertaining. Highly recommended, and I’ll bet the Blu-ray is even more impressive!
TrackList: Introduction; Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy; Vulcan Worlds; Sorceress; Song to the Pharaoh Kings; Al’s Solo; No Mystery; Chick’s Solo; The Romantic Warrior; El Bayo de Negro; Lineage; The Romantic Warrior (continued); Bonus Tracks: Lineage; Al’s Solo; Friendship; El Bayo de Negro; Duel of the Jester & the Tyrant.
— Tom Gibbs