Saturday, July 17, 2010

Fusion Week: Return To Forever

Return To Forever (group; formed 1972)
Chick Corea (electric piano)
Stanley Clarke (bass)
Airto Moreira (drums)
Flora Purim (vocals)
Joe Farrell (sax)

Lenny White (drums)
Bill Connors (guitar)
Al DiMeola (guitar)
Steve Gadd (drums)
Mingo Lewis (percussion)

It's only fitting that we end Fusion Week with the most commercially successful Fusion band of them all, Return To Forever. Unlike their more cerebral contemporaries Mahvishnu Orchestra and Weather Report, Return To Forever were fierce, funky and in the beginning more Latin-tinged. Return To Forever were always a band that was more focused on the masses than the smaller jazz community. I was never a big fan of RTF but I did appreciate allot of their songs; especially "Spain," "Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy," "Sorceress" and "Celebration Suite".

Return To Forever while driven by Corea's intricate passages on keyboards, also relied on the heavy funk bass of Stanley Clarke and the big arena rock sound of Bill Connors (and later DiMeola) and Steve Gadd on drums. Their sound grew from the early Latin flavour of their first album, Light As A Feather (Polydor) influenced heavily by Flora Purim (vocals) and Airto Moriera (drums) to the extremely funky (almost early smooth jazz) of their final album, Romantic Warrior (Columbia) where the group sounds fully formed even if the material was not all co-written.

Return To Forever may not have been the jazz purists favourite but they did push fusion into mainstream which it probably needed. It also made the band members household names. I can't personally recommend a specific RTF album but there are two compilations that would served anyone (including the purist) well. The first is Return To The Galaxy (Verve; 1996) which covers only their material for Universal ('72 - '75) but does include all the important tracks plus some great live performances. The second is The Anthology (Concord; 2008) this covers the same ground but includes material from Romantic Warrior ('76). You can find both of this pretty regularly in the used record shops (which isnt' a bad thing) and you won't be disappointed.

Return To Forever gave no surprises throughout their career. They were always here to funk for the masses not explore. And for that expansion of fusion to a new audience we must be grateful.



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