Return To Forever – The Mothership Returns – Eagle Records ER202572 (2-CDs + DVD) CD 1: 54:02; CD 2: 58:36; DVD (16:9 color): 112:26 [6/18/2012] *****1/2:
(Chick Corea –keyboards, synthesizers; Stanley Clarke – acoustic & electric bass; Lenny White – drums, percussion; Jean-Luc Ponty – electric violin; Frank Gambale – acoustic & electric guitar)
Jazz fusion began to develop in the late sixties. At times labeled “jazz-rock”, this hybrid genre incorporated elements of funk, r&b, rock and jazz improvisation. Jazz purists have not embraced this movement, citing the populist influences. Vibraphonist Gary Burton introduced portions of this on his 1966 album, Time Machine. But it was Miles Davis who thrust fusion into the spotlight on projects like Miles In The Sky (featuring Herbie Hancock on electric piano and Ron Carter on electric bass), In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew. Other groups including Weather Report, The Tony Williams Lifetime, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return To Forever advanced this musical dialect and introduced a new generation of jazz prodigies.
Chick Corea (piano wizard with Stan Getz) formed Return To Forever in 1971. With Stanley Clarke (bass), Joe Farrell (reeds) and the husband/wife team of Airto Moreira (percussion) and Flora Purim (vocals). Their self-titled debut relied on Latin musical themes. Subsequent releases, Light As A Feather and Hymn Of The Galaxy emphasized a truer fusion mix. Over the years, the live performances have endeared the group to a large fan base.
Return To Forever – The Mothership Returns reunites the seventies band (again…there have been previous reunions) with a two CD and one DVD package. Disc One opens with a synthesizer/electric piano (Chick Corea) propelled intro on “Medieval Overture”. After a percussive flourish, it segues into electric violin (Jean-Luc Ponty) and guitar (Frank Gambale) transitions. Drummer Lenny White and bassist Stanley Clarke are brilliantly cohesive as Corea takes off on keyboards. “Senor Mouse” starts off with an improvisational run by Corea on electric piano. Clarke’s trademark bass slapping is still refreshing. Latin, progressive rock, and even contemporary jazz come together in exciting jams. A newer member to RTF, violinist Ponty shines early on “The Shadow of Lo/Sorceress”. Then the band lays down some funk-driven grooves which offer Gambale an opportunity to adjoin some edgy runs. Then Corea explores a Spanish/classical solo that is complex and uplifting. Jazz enthusiasts will enjoy the free spirited instrumental mastery on “Renaissance” (especially Ponty).
Disc Two continues the fusion dynamics on “After The Cosmic Rain”. With dual leads by Ponty and Gambale, the track shifts several times. Mixing spacey jams with a thrusting rhythm sections, the group is synchronized to each other. Clarke adds a vampy bass that is funky and interconnected to the quintet. Another gem, “The Romantic Warrior” is hypnotic and takes full advantage of Ponty’s up-tempo jazz phrasing and Corea’s prodigious skills. These musicians intermingle flawlessly. Clarke reintroduces the title cut from his solo effort, “School Days”. His remarkable technique meshes with Gambale’s heavy rock orientation.
RTF fans will revel in the DVD footage. There is a 64-minute documentary, Return To Forever: Inside The Music, that chronicles the 2011 reunion tour. The interviews are focused on Corea, Clarke and White, and provide some detailed and anecdotal contexts to the group. There is also live footage of “After The Cosmic Rain” and “The Romantic Warrior” (with another mind-bending solo by Clarke). The image is widescreen color and b&w, and sound quality is excellent, available in Dolby Digital Stereo and DTS 5.1. There is a CD-sized booklet that contains a generous amount of photographs.
Return To Forever – The Mothership Returns is great music. It is easy to understand the clamor for their reunions.
Disc 1: Medieval Overture; Senor Mouse; The Shadow Of Lo; Renaissance
Disc 2: After The Cosmic Rain; The Romantic Warrior; Concierto de Aranjuez/Spain
School Days; Beyond The Seventh Galaxy
DVD: Return To Forever: Inside The Music; After The Cosmic Rain; The Romantic Warrior; The Story Of Return To Forever
Biondi gives a rich and personal exploration of these violin masterpieces