Returns – Return to Forever
Reunions are risky. Getting a band back together can spark happy memories, but it can remind them (and their audiences) about the problems of old. Being the first '70s jazz/rock supergroup to hit the road in this decade, Return To Forever brought out fans of that era’s music when they came together again last year, but also reignited old debates. To this listener, Return To Forever (specifically, the 1974-76 lineup with Al DiMeola, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White heard on this tour) was sometimes guilty of bombast and meaningless flash, but at its best Chick Corea’s lively writing and the band’s chops made for an appealing virtuosic, improvisatory variation on the rock of its time.
Although it’s hard to imagine men of advanced years (Corea is nearing 70) playing loud, aggressive music, he and his band rarely show their age. They play mostly old music (Corea’s anthemic “Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy” and wistful acoustic “No Mystery,” plus several selections from the sci-fi epics Where Have I Known You Before and Romantic Warrior) and still allow each member ample solo space. DiMeola, one of the first players to arrive in fusion with stronger rock than jazz roots, still builds each solo to a rapid climax, while Corea can display equal chops but provides much of the subtlety, especially when he slips into “Solar” with only quiet walking bass and brushed drums accompaniment during his solo section.
This disc’s booklet lays on the victory-lap feeling a bit thick, as does the inclusion of an awards ceremony honoring the band at the end of the set. But while a rock victory-lap can easily consist of nothing more than a round of the old songs, jazz/rock requires improvisation, meaning that there is something new on offer in Returns. And although this reunion disc has some hammy licks in the early songs (which happen to coincide with the crowd’s applause surging into audibility), there’s enough articulate and effective music to make this worth a listen even for the unsentimental.
That said, I disagree with the annotator’s wish for further RTF reunions. Or, to put it more precisely, that could be nice, but only if it brings about newer music from these stellar players.