Return To Forever | 06.11.08 | SF

Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Susan J. Weiand

Return To Forever :: 06.11.08 :: The Grand :: San Francisco, CA

Di Meola & Clarke :: 06.11 :: San Francisco
The Basque tongue is considered a language isolate, which means it shares "no demonstrable genealogical relationship with other living languages" (Wikipedia). It's a reminder that for all the talk of "nothing new under the sun" there are unique facets to the world. It didn't take long for Return To Forever to crystallize this concept in San Francisco. "Jazz-Fusion" has always seemed far too small a descriptor for this crazy visionary quartet, who took the newfangled freedoms of the '60s and ran them to splendidly illogical conclusions. No one in the early '70s jazz establishment could have seen this band coming. They were reverential and melodramatically philosophical, yet also hard struttin' in perfectly rumpled leather jackets, lit cigarettes dangling from smiling lips, looking every bit the badasses they were. In S.F., the clothes had changed and temples had grayed but none of their strange, charged voodoo had been lost.

"Relax or don't relax, do whatever you do, 'cause we're gonna turn it on and go someplace," said Chick Corea before settling in behind his mad hatter's keyboard lab. Then, peels of beautiful electric piano and impossibly pure, clean electric guitar from a nicely disheveled looking Al Di Meola filled the air like an exhaled breath from God's lungs, angels backstroking in the vapor. Intricate and otherworldly, they ran into our arms on the strong legs of Lenny White's drums and Stanley Clarke's slow popping bass. Without question all four guys sit near the pinnacle of their respective instruments, and where other settings over the years have sometimes felt a little showy, a skill exposition for the sake of it, together again as Return To Forever after nearly 30 years there seemed to be nothing but unfiltered music flowing through them, their naked passion plunging a long tap into the Universe's belly to draw out the very liquid of life.

It's hard to talk about RTF in less poetic terms. Citing precedent, charting every note played seems to rub against Corea's inducement to "turn it on and go someplace." Corea - whose grin and sometimes peculiar interactions with his bandmates generated speculation about whether he might have enjoyed a San Francisco treat besides Rice-A-Roni before the show – later back announced, "We played 'Song to the Pharaoh Kings,' something before that and then we were just screwing around." Hey, if they're not hung up on names then I'm not gonna be!

Chick Corea :: 06.11 :: San Francisco
In concert, Return To Forever isn't about recreating the frozen moments on their albums. They are engaged - sometimes messily, sometimes gracefully – with a breathing entity, capital "M" music, and the ferocity of Di Meola and Corea was balanced and contrasted with the cool and humor of Clarke and White. One sensed right away how much fun it was to be grappling music with their old mates again. For many in attendance it was a dream to see this group in action again but the pleasure was clearly not only on our side of the stage.

Each began sequestered in their own quadrant – Clarke center stage with Di Meola and White to his right and Corea nested left – but maintained clear sightlines which quickly drew them out, with Di Meola and Clarke especially anxious to bridge the physical and musical spaces between them. Corea, in one of the oddest moments of the night, hovered next to a seated Di Meola during his "solo segment," clapping his hands and clacking drumsticks together. The guitarist took it in stride, as did the rest later during a particularly drawn-out keyboard tangent that left the rest twiddling their thumbs for a bit. Their broad, knowing grins were priceless when Corea emerged from his trance and reentered the main theme they'd been exploring a good deal earlier. These cats really know each other and that understanding and compassion shows in their faces, their instrumental communication and genuine care for this thing they nurture together.

Lenny White :: 06.11 :: San Francisco
While these "romantic warriors" occasionally dipped into saccharine waters - no surprise given the downright gushy, between the sheets selections in their catalog – but what kept hitting one in the heart were the many outbursts of "celestial transcendence." Yes, four human beings made this music – conceived it, executed it, etc. – but one felt tapped into something MUCH bigger as Clarke spoke in tongues on his double bass or White took us from the stone age to Shelly Manne in a matter of seconds. It was there in the near bloodlust of Di Meola, working the strings of an acoustic guitar like he was auditioning for the angel band. And it was there in the note stuffed, scrambled acoustics of Corea's mind-boggling inventions. There was so much going on at times that one had to expand their personal capacity for information just to keep pace with them. Stretched and tenderized, the quartet took us frequently to a place of laughing revelation.

We've heard things like Return To Forever; they had contemporaries aplenty (Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, Herbie's Headhunters) but they're just more fun, more heartily embracing of funky sounds and slurred dialects, than anything else in the jazz-meets-rock-meets-whatever genre. At one point, a sick harpsichord sputtered into a crunchily melodic Di Meola solo that rumbled their vessel, bashing asteroids while the others poured bubbling cola into the main frame just to see what might happen. Maybe it's their joyful acceptance that they may look foolish or fail in their jumps (though they rarely did) that makes RTF so appealing.

How else to explain our patience with Corea when he emerged for the encore with a keytar to "rawk" shoulder-to-shoulder with Clarke and Di Meola? No one, not even a freakin' genius like Chick, can make a keytar cool. But, he was obviously having a grand time, working the pitch-bending wheel like a man possessed during "Captain Senor Mouse." Snicker inducing but moving nonetheless, the power of their energy music plowed through cynicism and sarcasm. Things grow when musicians conjure like this, and blossoms unfolded and roots grasped as they did that voodoo that only they do so well. They have returned with a sound for forever.

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[Published on: 6/16/08]

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foofighter1520 starstarstarstar Mon 6/16/2008 05:23PM
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cool review...wish they weren't so expensive

anyone word about tapers for RTF shows? doubt it's allowed but I'd love to be able hear it

alw7 Mon 6/16/2008 06:52PM
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here's your show,I've listened to a bit of it and it sounds pretty good.

Grateful Red starstarstarstar Mon 6/16/2008 07:00PM
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Grateful Red

Listen man, how much do the foo fighters cost? $30? So skip 2 of their non-musically mindblowing performances for one that truly will blow your mind! I spent $65 a ticket and it was the greatest musical performance I've ever seen! Saw them in Phoenix on Sat. Unreal! Stanley Clark is the best bass player I've ever seen, and I've seen Wooten a few times. The things he did to his STAND UP BASS, were beyond description. Then when you hear Al rippin on his guitar and Chick just killin, it becomes ear-ecstasy! Also, not a mic in the house whn I saw them, but you can bet there will be a dvd after they end their tour. I suggest you buy it! Seriously though, that was the GREATEST show I've ever seen. 70+ Phish shows included. Nobody but Trey could even get onstage with them and not feel like an inferior player. I can only hope they tour more and get to the SW again. If they are near your town and you like beautiful music, it doesn't get any better!

alw7, thx for the link!

rulosa01 starstarstarstarstar Mon 6/16/2008 08:38PM
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stanley clarke ownz

foofighter1520 Mon 6/16/2008 09:24PM
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thanks for the link, alw7

thanks for the pretensions, grateful red.

gratefuled starstarstarstarstar Mon 6/16/2008 10:01PM
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I was at the RTF in Portland, OR and it was SICK SICK SICK! I paid $50 to go, which in my mind was a great deal because I got to see Chick Corea for $12.50, Stanley Clarke for $12.50, Al Di Meola for $12.50 and Lenny White for $12.50. Seeing all these guys work together is pure magic.

@Grateful Red...Di Meola and Trey are on two different levels...Di Meola being close to godly and Trey being a faithful servant. :D

gmoo Tue 6/17/2008 05:17AM
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Please don't compare Trey to Al. Trey is good but not even close on this one.

gmoo Tue 6/17/2008 06:41AM
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RTF are the 'masters of buzzkill'? That's funny in so many ways. I love the biscuits dude, but you have no idea what you are talking about. Go ask Magner about Chick Corea. Go ask Brownie about Stanley Clarke. I enjoy Bisco, but when it comes to musicianship, there's no comparison. Don't get me wrong I enjoy a solid MorphD, but there is a reason why the Flecktones are opening for this band. Who knows though, maybe Bisco will still have an audience in 30 years for songs like Helicopters and Munchkins, but I doubt it.

ao1 starstarstarstarstar Tue 6/17/2008 06:59AM
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To be fair.........the flectones are essentially on the same level as rtf.....The members of rtf are legends dont get me wrong.....but in thirty years the members of the flectones (not including future man) will be of the same status.....wish i coulda been at the show though.........chick is unreal....actually everyone should check out white....unreal talent

gmoo Tue 6/17/2008 07:07AM
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^^^agreed. Flecktones are just paying their dues. They will get theirs.

onearmguitarist starstarstarstarstar Tue 6/17/2008 08:23AM
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I saw them about a week before this and it was one of the most incredible show ive ever seen! Catch them if you can.

ezzulus starstarstarstarstar Tue 6/17/2008 08:36AM
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See it to believe it - best show I've seen in 4 years.

sweetjames Tue 6/17/2008 09:10AM
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Can't wait for this Friday in Chicago!

Grateful Red Tue 6/17/2008 09:10AM
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Grateful Red

Hold your horses there kids, I only said that Trey could get onstage. That's it. He could play with them. I didn't see Al do anything that I believe was out of the realms of possibility for Trey. Regardless, the real point I was trying to make was that I have a fave band, Phish, and these 4 dudes just put on the best show I've ever seen!!! They are masters! I am still amazed at what I saw.

Grateful Red Tue 6/17/2008 09:12AM
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Grateful Red

And where was Bela opening for them? They had no opener in Phoenix. Confused...

onthemoon Tue 6/17/2008 09:31AM
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hahaha "bluntsnbisco420" - - you are hilarious. thanks gmoo for setting that straight

NickBoeka Tue 6/17/2008 10:34AM
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I'm really really upset at myself that I did not go out to see this. With two Yoshi's now, and the multitude of really intelligent music that comes around this area, there really is no excuse....

gmoo Tue 6/17/2008 10:43AM
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Word Greatful Red. Didn't mean to come off like that. Trey is the man.

twain Tue 6/17/2008 10:44AM
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will be double dipping in miami n orlando. ear to da stage face to da sky not a care in da world!

Marcsmall Tue 6/17/2008 11:23AM
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Saw this show in Denver, and it was worth every fucking penny...These guys are as talented and amazing sounding as anyone you or I will EVER see....without guys like them, Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra, etc, there would probably be NO jamband scene....Bands like Phish, Bisco, and others would most likely agree with me on this one. Stanley Clarke is the second best Bass Player Ever, IMHO, only conceding to Jaco. If you get a chance, go see them. Even if you have your doubts, I could not imagine ANYONE who appreciates great music being disappointed.

PunkJazz Tue 6/17/2008 11:53AM
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"celestial transcendence", sounds "heady".

Robusto Tue 6/17/2008 12:34PM
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Man. You'd have to bring all the "A" game you've got to sit with those boys.

Marcsmall Tue 6/17/2008 01:33PM
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True, I don't think Trey could pull it off.

diddygroove1 Tue 6/17/2008 04:07PM
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I saw the show in PHX Saturday as well, and it is in my top 5 shows of ALL TIME! These four dudes bring the heat and I don't think anyone comes close. Go see them if you get the chance - it is worth every penny. I am seeing them again in Atlanta in August and cannot wait!

Mandibule Cherrystone Wed 6/18/2008 12:36AM
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Mandibule Cherrystone

Can't read all these words. Great pics, Sue!

DAMONCORY starstarstarstarstar Wed 6/18/2008 02:51PM
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Glad to see they are blowing everyone away.

Just got my tics for Minneapolis show tomorrow. YES!

DAMONCORY starstarstarstarstar Fri 6/20/2008 09:36AM
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WOW! Words cannot describe how incredible that show last night was. If they are coming to your town, Do not miss this show. As far as everyone saying it was one of the best shows they have ever seen.... Yep.