Take my word for it, Return to Forever is back, and they’re back with a vengeance. It was a night of uncompromised compositional masterpieces (a term I don’t throw out lightly) by, and I will quote Stanley Clarke, “one of the great American songwriters”, Chick Corea. It was moving to see these stellar artists come together to once again interpret the music of an era gone by that changed contemporary jazz and defined the word “Fusion”, and I might add that they were obviously all having a damn good time doing it.
My first thought, as a composer, was imagining what some of these charts must have looked like. This music was a far cry from the AABA (maybe C) formula that prevailed soon after this period. This gig was some major memory work to take on, and these guys were on it. I heard Stanley at one point kind of miss a change, and enjoyed the response which was him turning to Chick with a big smile on his face, and Chick giving him one right back… it’s jazz, and they were, as it should be, taking chances. Chick, who was surrounded by a barrage of keyboards (including a Fender Rhodes…nice touch), was, as always, sounding better than ever. At one point in the concert he took an acoustic piano solo that might have been the best improvised piece of solo music that I’ve heard to date…can’t say enough about how much music runs thru this man.
The rhythm section of Clarke and Lenny White was also a pleasure to re-experience. With the amazing amount of top-flight rhythm sections Chick has had over the years, this one, in my opinion, was perfect for the night. Deep signature grooves complimented each tune, and the foundation under the music was flawless and undeniable, a testament to both these players as the music was stylistically all over the map.
Mr. DiMeola was in great voice, and I personally was most moved by an acoustic solo he took during the evening. He shines in this area, and his unmistakable over the top technique for me becomes more a part of the composition when he’s on the acoustic…not to be misunderstood, I certainly enjoyed every moment of the lighting fast unison lines that he effortlessly played along with Chick in many of the compositions, and that sound, or concept, was a big part of RTF’s uniqueness at the time. Speaking of acoustic solos, Stanley played about a 15-minute solo piece on upright, and I can’t remember enjoying him more—-this man owns that instrument.
There was some major storytelling happening that evening, compositionally as well as individually, and with the amazing amount of great players and writers that are out there right now, I hope we’ll see more of this daring compositional construct which ruled the early 70’s for a short, but very well remembered period of time.
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