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Return To Forever - Chick Corea: Return To Forever CD (album) cover


Return To Forever


Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.04 | 265 ratings

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4 stars Like a lot of veteran progheads I was exposed at an early age to the album "Romantic Warrior", attracted no doubt either by the cool medieval cover art or by the presence of AL DI MEOLA on electric guitar ("Elegant Gypsy" being a de rigueur addition to any decent record collection at the time). But it obviously didn't leave any lasting impression, maybe because to my immature ears the genre known as jazz-rock fusion was only a high priority when the music rocked a lot more than it jazzed.

But my interest in fusion has been rekindled ever since I began exploring the style at its source, from the pioneering efforts of MILES DAVIS to JOHN McLAUGHLIN to, most recently, a (re) discovery of Chick Corea's RETURN TO FOREVER. I was hoping to see how the aforementioned "Romantic Warrior" measured up to my now older and wiser musical appetites, but the Erie County public library system only had a CD copy of this, their first album, dating from way back to early 1972. There may not even have been a band by that name at the time: it looks more like a Chick Corea album whose title was attached to the group only afterwards.

A moot point, once I settled in between the headphones. My initial reaction was one of curiosity, then excitement, and finally a sort of stunned bewilderment: where the hell have I been all these years?

It's amost impossible not to respond to the pure organic warmth of the music: the sunny tempos and relaxed tropical rhythms, all of it the sum of a near-magical combination of talents, led by Corea on a simple electric piano (no RICK WAKEMAN keyboard overkill here). The 12-minute title track begins and ends, for example, with a modest but haunting little theme, sandwiching a pair of energetic jams propelled by Stan Clark's busy, aggressive basslines and the controlled mayhem of Airto Moriera's percussion.

The aptly titled "Crystal Silence" is, again, a showplace for the rich, lambent tones of Corea's piano, colored by Airto's percussive allsorts and with spare saxophone accompaniment, courtesy of Joe Farrell. "What Game Shall We Play Today" is an easy- on-the-ears jazz pop song highlighting the golden soprano of Flora Purim, the vocal equivalent of a clear blue sky in summer.

All of which is only a warm-up to "Sometime Ago-La Fiesta", an ambitious 23-minute tour-de-force that must have taken up an entire side of the original vinyl. Listen to the astonishing 7+ minute introduction, with Corea setting up the Spanish melody, eventually giving way to a nimble-fingered but ferocious solo by Clarke on acoustic double-bass. Clarke then locks onto a toe-tapping groove for another 7 or 8 minutes, underneath another gorgeous Flora Purim vocal performance and some nervous flute arabesques from Farrell.

There's a quiet point midway into the song when the band cools its collective energy, reminding me in moments of the more airy passages from KING CRIMSON's "Islands" LP ("Formentera Lady" and the long title track in particular). Okay, that's an unfair comparison for easy reference only: the music was clearly drawn from the same well, but Corea's compositions are more relaxed and looser, deriving from a more genuine jazz sensibility (the man played with MILES, keep in mind).

"La Fiesta" ends the album with a pulse-quickening flamenco jam (castanets included!), showcasing Farrell's virtuoso chops in a stunning free-form sax solo, over another grungy Stan Clarke double-bass workout.

It's an album of infectious optimism and light, and a godsend in digital format, without the distraction of vinyl pops and scratches to mar the more subtle interludes. The only reason I'm resisting the temptation to award it five stars is because I've only just heard it for the first time. But if it sounds this fresh after more than thirty years I don't doubt it will soon pass my own personal test of time to become a classic with full honors.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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