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


Return To Forever

Jazz Rock/Fusion

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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.

Report this review (#773498)
Posted Monday, June 18, 2012 | Review Permalink
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
5 stars I am shocked.

I was astounded by the comeback live album "Return To Forever Returns", and gave it five stars. Yet here they are with a new tour and new album, and they have topped the previous recording.

Al DiMeola has been replaced on guitar by Frank Gambale, who had performed with Chick Corea in his Elektrik Band. While Gambale does not compare with DiMeola on acoustic guitar, although he is certainly no slouch, his blazing electric guitar skills add even more power to the already heavy RTF pieces.

Jean-Luc Ponty is also with RTF on this album. His violin adds even more depth to the songs, and his solos are every bit as fascinating as Corea, Stanley Clarke and Gambale's. And the RTF version of Ponty's Renaissance is amazing.

I can't see how any fusion release can top this one this year.

Report this review (#784243)
Posted Saturday, July 7, 2012 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars I guess the title of this album says it all doesn't it ? We get a double live record with a bonus DVD which features an almost classic lineup consisting of Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White, along with Jean-Luc Ponty and Frank Gambale. Certainly Ponty's inclusion gives this a different feel than the original sound. If there was one word to describe what's going on here for me it would be "joy". Just a look at the many pictures in the liner notes shows a group of guys who would rather be nowhere else. We get 9 tracks although there's two on the one so really 10 songs. It's cool they do one of Jean-Luc Ponty's songs from his "Aurora" album called "Renaissance", and they also do "School Days" from the album of the same name from a Stanley Clarke solo album. Also the two songs that are on one are "The Shadow Of Lo" from Lenny White's "Present Tense" album and they combine it with "Sorceress" from "Romantic Warrior" that Lenny actually composed.

So much info in the liner notes with each member talking about the project and more along with METALLICA bass player Robert Trujillo adding his praise. I like Stanley Clarke's thoughts as he talked about the early days when he and Chick were hired to play with Joe Henderson and how in Stanley's apartment Chick would passionately talk about playing a different kind of music and playing it in a different way, for different reasons. That's when Stanley knew he had found someone with the same thoughts about music that he had. And as he says "The mothership had it's first passengers". By the way these guys did over 70 shows in 2011 so I think they were on the top of their game here. This is an impressive recording.

There are so many highlights i'm not sure what to even include or exclude. They begin with "Medieval Overture" from "Romantic Warrior" and man when the full sound kicks in this sounds amazing. I love the electric piano 3 1/2 minutes in as they rip it up. "Senor Mouse" from "Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy" is next and early on this sounds fantastic with the bass, drums and electric piano. Violin before 2 minutes. So many highlights like the synths before 6 minutes and the guitar 9 1/2 minutes in. "The Shadow Of Lo / Sorceress" features some funk later on and White impresses late. "Renaissance" ends disc one with an extended version of Ponty's song to over 19 minutes. This is a ride folks.

Disc two begins with "After The Cosmic Rain" from "Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy" and they contrasts the full and laid back sections well. "The Romantic Warrior" has some outbursts of applause from the crowd on and off throughout in appreciation to what they are witnessing. "Spain" from "Light As A Feather" opens with piano then it kicks into a full sound around 2 1/2 minutes. Some audience participation later on. "School Days" might be my favourite. At least early on. Amazing sound ! When it ends a couple of the band members tell the audience how much they appreciate their love and enthusiasm. And one mentions their seventies albums by name which for some reason is an emotional thing for me. "Beyond The Seventh Galaxy" ends it and it's from "Where Have I Known You Before". Just a killer track once it gets going. Ripping guitar before 3 minutes.

A must for RETURN TO FOREVER fans and Jazz / Fusion fans in general.

Report this review (#809250)
Posted Thursday, August 23, 2012 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
4 stars After their Romantic Warrior reunion tours of the late 00's (which has reunited Chick, Lenny, Stanley and ADM), RTF came back for another one of their album celebration, this time Hymn Of The Sevent Galaxy. Indeed, the original intent was to get Connors to return and play homage to their best album ever (IMHO, anyway), but it turns out Connors couldn't make it. So Corea turned to his Elektrik Band long-time comrade Frank Gambale, and in the process invited the French violin legen JL Ponty, this was born RTF4. Notthat this line- up has released any new material: it just toured and concentrated on mainly two album for their sets: RW and 7th Galaxy.

This triple disc affair is a strictly live one, with the third beng a DVD where there are for features, including a lengthy but relatively uninteresting interview, a short RTF career resume, and more importantly, two of the lengthier track in their set. Apprently, if the comrades appear relatively affected by their respective ages (only Ponty seems to have aged more gracefully), it doesn't seem to impede their stage play, and RTYF still has lots to offer in concert. The quintet is in fine musical form, even Lenny, who seemed relatively weaker in their previous RW project. Of course, the quintet adapted the music of those two mythical album to fit their five-man front, and that might just be the main attraction of this album, but it's of relatively limited interest, because the nature of the tracks are still very close to the originals, despite the much lengthier versions. Indeed, Senor Mouse, Renaissance, Cosmic Rain and Romantic Warrior are all expanded beyond their studio duration, so that everyone one stage can blow a bit of steam. Another two attractions are the 8-mins Gil/Miles Spanish thing and Stanley's famous title track from his School Days solo album, though I could've done without the audience-participation sing-along chorus bit. Frank Gambale fits in fine in filling both Connors or ADM's shoes, while Ponty's violin intervention go from enthralling to relatively clumsy, sometimes temporarily breaking the spell of the original composition.

While the first two CD discs are sharing fairly evenly the almost two hours of the show, the third disc holds as much interest, despite the afore-mentioned interview's relative lack of interest. Unless you like your musical heroes self-gloating and goofing around unnaturally, you won't be watching that first feature a second time. The only reason to do so would be to catch glimpses of the other tracks of the sets, which are not offered without the interview comments. The two longer pieces of Cosmic Rain and Romantic Warrior are indeed available on their own, and if these are the DVD highlights, one wonders why they didn't do the whole set that way. As for the closing forgettable Story Of, it's rather insignificant. Sooooooo, the Mithership Returns package is a bit of a mixed-bag affair, with the CDs holding evident interest, but it is with the DVD that lies the disappointment. One that could've been easily avoided too: Just the full filmed set, without the interviews and its expandable gloating and boasting would've been infinitely more satisfying.

Report this review (#864498)
Posted Thursday, November 22, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars At long last, the mothership returns! Return to Forever are back with their fifth live record to date, and what a record it is! The band may be getting older, but by no means has their talent diminished at all.

This lineup of the band, which was dubbed Return to Forever IV for the tour, has a few changes from the classic lineup: Frank Gambale takes over guitar duties from Al Di Meola, and Jean-Luc Ponty adds his violin expertise to the outfit. The usual suspects - Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White - are of course all present as well.

The first thing I noticed listening to this album was the sound quality, which is incredibly rich and full for a live recording. While the sound here is practically studio quality, the rawness of the live performance is still captured. As a result, this is one of the better sounding live albums out there.

As far as material goes, this double live album contains a mix of Return to Forever's hard-hitting, cosmic fusion and their acoustic work. The music here predominantly consists of songs from the group's classic works Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy and Romantic Warrior. It's fair to say that the material has stood the test of time, with Chick Corea's compositions, most notably, remaining relevant with their complex, well thought-out structures that still leave plenty of room for improvisation.

Speaking of improvisation, you'll be hearing a lot of it; practically every song here features an extended solo from each of the lead musicians. It's not uncommon for one song to have upwards of ten minutes worth of solos on it. These are some of the best fusion players in the world, however, and know how to keep a solo engaging. Some of the performances here are really mind-blowing!

If you're familiar with Return to Forever, you know that these guys are experts on their instruments. Chick Corea, like usual, awes the crowd with his quintessential work on the Fender Rhodes and other keyboard instruments. Stanley Clarke is at the top of his game here as well, showing off his signature percussive electric and upright bass work. As for Lenny White, he really rocks the kit and offers some of the best rhythmic support that fusion has to offer. While Frank Gambale lacks some of the latin flair and the acoustic stylings of Al Di Meola, his renowned electric playing is great and proves that he is a capable soloist and comper and overall an adequate substitute. Finally, Jean-Luc Ponty likewise proves to be an excellent addition to the band's lineup with great violin playing.

My only complaint as far as the music on this album is concerned is that Frank Gambale and Jean-Luc Ponty's duties are far too similar, meaning that they are often playing the exact same lines. While I understand and appreciate that fast, unison lines are a staple of Return to Forever, it still would have been nice to hear some harmonies or other variances.

If you like jazz fusion or Return to Forever's music, even just a little bit, you'll want to hear this album. The sound quality is exceptional. The musicians are exceptional. Every single track is exceptional (both in composition and performance). I don't know what else to say other than that this may very well be fusion's finest live outing in the past several years.

Report this review (#917432)
Posted Thursday, February 21, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars Where to begin ..

Not a single musician in this band needs to be introduced to the followers of contemporary jazz. Apart from Frank Gambale, whose first record wasn't out until 1980s, the rest of the Mothership's crew - Chick Corea, Jean-Luc Ponty, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White - have been faring the vast post-bop space since the era of Miles Davis and John Coltrane.

You don't expect anything less than excellent from grandmaster Chick and Team; we are kind of used to it. Thus, I expected the excellency and the galaxy-class musicianship from The Mothership Returns, and the expectations were duly met and exceeded.

There are two amazing things about this double CD: first is the sound quality. I don't know what the trick is, honestly .. how you can make a live recording with such crisp, crystal-clear and balanced sound. Second, is the sheer enthusiasm and vigor, demonstrated by the bunch of these sixty-plus and seventy years old venerable grandpas.

Compositions-wise, The Mothership revisits some of the grandest planets of the Fusion Universe, once discovered by Admiral Chick and Captain Jean-Luc. Some of the best jazz fusion pieces ever.

This star crew somehow manage to play long virtuoso solos without encroaching on each other's and common sound matrix. A special honorable mention to The First Officer Stanley Clarke: if he ever came out with an album on which there is nothing else but his bass solos, I'd buy it and listen to at least once a week :)

Will these guys ever get tired of making the best music in the Universe?

Report this review (#984727)
Posted Sunday, June 23, 2013 | Review Permalink

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