Return To Forever: Returns

By: Ron Hart

Back when I was the music editor for this wannabe hipster rag out of NYC, I was told by my editor-in-chief, when pitching the idea of reviewing - if my memory serves me well - a Jaco Pastorius reissue, that, "Our magazine is serving a primarily hipster set which is into hip-hop, rock, electronica, some kitschy pop and obscure things that they may not have heard of from time to time. So, we have to bend in that direction more."

He went on to explain in this email he sent me how fusion jazz is something the magazine's readers "make a little fun of" and how I should steer away from writing about it. So, in essence, they wanted me to write about unskilled crap like electro-clash and "raw rock" instead and then proceeded to pitch me on covering garbage NYC acts of the time like The Bravery and Larry Tee, thus sealing my decision to step down from my position there out of sheer respect for my music education.

Reminiscing on that e-mail while listening to this phenomenal, complex and otherworldly live album from the recently-reunited "classic lineup" of Return to Forever featuring Chick Corea on keys, Al Di Meola on guitar, Stanley Clarke on bass and Lenny White on drums - the utter epitome of fusion jazz if there ever was one - I feel wholly inspired to drive my 1994 Buick LeSabre right down to Bedford Ave. in Williamsburg, park right outside of whatever trendy-ass bar has opened up on North 6th St. that week and crank the 27 minute version of "Song to the Pharaoh Kings" at full volume. The results, I'm hoping, would be kind of like when Barbara Streisand blasted White Zombie from a van outside her home during her wedding to James Brolin in order to keep the Paparazzi away. Maybe then, these condo-dwelling, trust-fund-having, Hold Steady-loving cretins will finally get the hint that they are not welcome in Kings County anymore.

But I digress. This epic, two-disc live set, featuring performances recorded at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida, the Bank of America Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts and the Montreux Jazz Festival during the quartet's reunion tour in the summer of 2008, finds Corea, Di Meola, Clarke and White in top form, as if their 1976 studio swan song Romantic Warrior was recorded last month instead of 33 years ago. The indelible interplay between the four musicians remains as fluid as ever in spite of the three-decade time lapse as RTF charges through highlights from all eras of their brief but impactful career. Fans will take great joy in hearing the classic line-up rip through such early material as "500 Miles High" from 1972's Light As A Feather and the title cut to 1973's psychedelic Hymn to the Seventh Galaxy, two albums that did not feature either Di Meola nor White, and who both do great justice to the jams here.

Chick, one of the true legends of the post-bop jazz era, is still at the top of his game at 69 years young, proven in the way his piano intertwines with the dizzying acoustic scaling of Di Meola during a particularly impassioned performance of "No Mystery." And any young bass player who considers Flea or Les Claypool to be the greatest four-stringer they ever heard needs to school themselves with a deep listen to Clarke's solo around the 9-minute mark of the near 14-minute "Vulcan Worlds" on disc one to find out what's really up.

Return to Forever Returns is a true comeback for the ages as momentous for fusion fans as the My Bloody Valentine reunion has been for shoegazers or Faith No More for alt-metal heads. For those of you who find this music as something to "make a little fun of," as my misbegotten former editor seemed to think back in the height of The Strokes-era, you need to go back to your little bankrolled studio apartment on Meserole and stick to that crappy Wavves album you incessantly prattle on about to your friends at the Turkey's Nest. This is NOT for you.

For more on Return To Forever, check out our review of the band's 2008 S.F. concert and our interview with Lenny White.

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[Published on: 8/10/09]

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