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Return To Forever - The Mothership Returns CD (album) cover


Return To Forever


Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.52 | 47 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

5 stars I might as well make my first review be for something that few have heard as of yet!

This is the live album we've been waiting for all year after having witnessed the unbelievable (and very surprising) "Return to Forever IV" tour. (The "IV" has been dropped for this release.)

I saw them in Montreal around this time last year, and after falling in the first few seconds, my jaw never came up off of the floor. Well-deserved standing ovations happened every ten to twenty minutes, because the whole thing was just mind-blowing. Spectacular. These guys are the best.

A year later, (a week ago now) I found myself transported back to that magical moment when Chick's "Medieval Overture" kicked in once again, joined now for the main melody not only by Clarke, White and...."a guitar player", but also the greatest Jazz violinist EVER, Mr. Jean-Luc Ponty! This song is played pretty straight, with only slight differences in arrangement from the original with Al Di Meola, courtesy of Mr. Frank Gambale, and our favorite violinist.

Senor Mouse ("Captain" having been dropped at some point in the last few years) comes through with new power and energy, just like the rest! One of my favorite RTF pieces is given new life here, in a truly spectacular version. On "The SHadow of Lo/Sorceress" we start getting into the intense, extended pieces, pumped full of would think that Ponty's acoustic "Renaissance" would calm things down, but this 20-minute extravaganza is just as crazy and solo-ridden as any of the other longer tracks!

Disc two opens with probably my favorite track on the album, "After the Cosmic Rain." A true epic, this version is 17 minutes of paradise. We go back to the acoustic instruments for The Romantic Warrior, the last 20-minute extravaganza.

After a chiling opening with Corea and Ponty on "Concierto de Aranjuez," the band goes into a lovely version of Corea's "Spain." Not overly exciting, but a good end to the main part of the show. The encore (how could I ever forget) is School Days, in which our favorite bass riff gurgles under a multi-harmony melody pounded out by Corea, Ponty and Gambale!

"Beyond the Seventh Galaxy" ends the album on a particularly energetic note, recalling a theme we love and re-arranging it expertly as we have heard throughout the album.

I'll go through all the players, now.

Chick Corea is the maestro, obviously. His playing is truly brilliant all throughout, whether he's just playing a little rhythm, performing a soaring solo, both or more! Just an all-around perfect Jazz musician, a legend at his best. A precious little can be said that hasn't been said before. This kind of concert is where we see Chick Corea doing what he's meant to do. 60% electric, (electric pianos and synths, mostly) 40% acoustic. Much more impressive here than on the recent "Corea, Clarke and White," for exactly that reason. Fantastic!

Stanley Clarke is truly unique. When you hear him play, you instinctively think "Well, that's just not what a bass player does!", no matter what technique he's using for any particular segment. In the context of a 2-hour live album recorded in 2011, where you really hear everything he's about, he's still a dynamic, intense rhythm player AND a virtuoso as a soloist ,though there are a few (minor) weaknesses, (perhaps due to age?) that should be mentioned, both in relation to his solo spots. He must get tired during his solos or something, because at some points he starts doing this repeated rapid-fire slap thing (DA- dadadada, DA-dadadada, DA-dadadada) that sounds impressive the first time, but then he does it again and again, a kind of habit. It occurs numerous times in duels with Gambale and Ponty that we hear them trying to mimic that because he stubbornly keeps doing it over and over again. The other thing is that when he doesn't bother with THAT anymore, he starts simply hitting the sides of the bass like a percussive instrument.....I really wish he wouldn't do that. At least not more than once in a show. Anyway, they really are two LITTLE qualms, that don't stand out as much as I've made them seem, but they had to be mentioned to be fair. He remains one of the greatest, and overall, he doesn't disappoint on this release. Again, better with the electric and acoustic mix.

Lenny White is an interesting character. I think of him as being like Alex Lifeson from Rush. In many other bands, Lifeson would be an absolute star, but, fortunately or unfortunately, Geddy Lee and Neil Peart are beside him, and he rarely sees the spotlight. Lenny White is a great Jazz drummer (and, as we sometimes see, a great writer) with some serious chops. He even has some ballsy Rock grooves. But he's always been in the company of giants, and really serves mostly to hold them all together, which is absolutely fine and respectable. It's not like he forms half of a normal "rhythm section" with Clarke, he's carrying the entire operation on his back, and he does a great job. There are certain spots where we can hear that he's not as fast and technical as he was in the days of the RTF records, but he's certainly retained most of his abilities, and the performance captured here is more than enjoyable. He's about the same here as he was on CC&W, maybe a little more energetic.

The newcomers!

Frank Gambale. I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't know his name until the announcement came out that he'd be in RTF IV. Ladies and Gents, this is no "stunt guitarist" for Al Di Meola. He's a whole other animal, and he doesn't just fill those shoes, he brings his own. Working in tandem with Ponty throughout, he provides clean, intricate melodies and accompaniments, along with performing some great solos. (There's one in particular during "Renaissance" that just boggles my mind every time I hear it. The clean harmoy that comes out during the solo in some spots sounds like a second guitar track...which it's obviously not.) FAN-TA-STIC. It's great that he got this "promotion" from the elektric band to RTF, he deserved it.

JEAN-LUC PONTY! What a surprise! I was overjoyed to hear that they were throwing this guy into the mix. A true virtuoso player, I've always said that he's the best Jazz violinist of all time, PERIOD. Who comes close? Didier Lockwood? lol...anyway, one of the most fascinating things about this tour was the way he was incorporated. He takes over some minimoog melodies here, some guitar leads there, adds harmonies to existing parts regularly, and of course, tears the house down when it's time for a solo. Like Corea, he's at his best here, and nothing can be said that has not been said.

The production is great, with all the instruments coming through nice and clearly, we have probably the best setlist possible with each of the nine tracks presented in what might be (this might be bold to say) the best versions ever!! My apologies to the great Al Di Meola, but how much better than this can it possibly get? We had the Corea, Clarke and White album last year that was pretty good, but this came around to blow it (and probably everything else) right out of the water.

Now......this bonus DVD.

This is where the spectacular album would have lost half a star if it wasn't so reasonably priced. You really are getting it for free, so it's fine. But really, there's a wasted opportunity here.

Sure, the documentary is amusing to watch once, ("We survived the boy band era [...] because Return to Forever is a MAN BAND!" - Stanley Clarke, a true hero) but it seems as though the mysterious "trailer" hints at a repetition of the same idea in the future, but carried out much better.

The footage of "After the Cosmic Rain", well, we're obviously seeing a great performance (might be the one on the album, actually), but it's marred by really awful visual effects and immaturely-fast angle changes.

The Romantic Warrior was nice to see, though. Another great performance ( a little longer than the one on the CD), this one at another venue (Montreux Jazz Festival 2011...a good one, it seems...Deep Purple's Orchestral Blu-Ray from that was also great.) and filmed properly!

Which leads me to asking...why isn't there more, and why wasn't this done on a blu-ray?

I can only hope that they're going to release a blu-ray from the tour, preferably looking like the Montreux footage, rather than the other one...

SO! A great band, that with some new blood, 40 years later, is still the best around. To say they've still got it is an understatement, because this might be the greatest thing ever!! This is a five-star release, because no single person who appreciates real music can possibly listen to this and not enjoy it. It's a brilliant, brilliant album that documents an earth- shattering is a masterpiece.

I went into this review telling myself "don't get carried away." Alas, I went and wrote a bible, it seems. lol...

Who knows what lies ahead for RTF....Corea says that "the mothership is awaiting mission orders" now. After the two "false starts" at reunions in 1983 and 2008, maybe now, with this new blood involved, they can finally get the ball rolling again. Nothing's happened for a year, but when this wins best Jazz album of the year (If CC&W could do it, this, a considerably more impressive release, can certainly do it, too)

We'll be waiting.

DomValela | 5/5 |


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