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RETURN TO FOREVER – LIVE at Molde Jazz Festival 1972
Chick Corea keyboards, Joe Farrell flute/saxophone, Stanley Clarke doublebass, Airto Moreira drums/percussion, Bill Tragesser vocals/percussion
500 Miles High
Return to Forever
Return to Forever was an American jazz fusion band that was founded by pianist Chick Corea in 1971. The band has had many members, with the only consistent bandmate of Corea’s being bassist Stanley Clarke. With Weather Report, The Headhunters, and Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever is often cited as one of the core groups of the jazz-fusion movement of the 1970s. Several musicians, including Clarke, Flora Purim, Airto Moreira and Al Di Meola, came to prominence through their performances on Return to Forever albums.
After playing on Miles Davis‘s jazz-fusion albums In a Silent Way (1969) and Bitches Brew (1970), Corea formed an avant-garde jazz band called Circle with Dave Holland, Anthony Braxton, and Barry Altschul. In 1972, after becoming a member of Scientology, Corea decided he wanted to communicate better with the audience. This meant performing a more accessible style of music than avant-garde jazz.
First group (1972–1973)
The first edition of Return to Forever performed primarily Latin-oriented music. This initial band consisted of singer and percussionist Flora Purim, her husband Airto Moreira (both Brazilians) on drums and percussion, Corea’s longtime musical co-worker Joe Farrell on saxophone and flute, and the young Stanley Clarke on bass. Within this first line-up in particular, Clarke played acoustic double bass in addition to electric bass. Corea’s Fender Rhodes electric piano formed the basis of this group’s sound; he had yet to discover synthesizers, his trademark sound in the group’s later years. Clarke and Farrell were given ample solo space themselves.
While Purim’s vocals lent some commercial appeal to the music, many of their compositions were also instrumental and somewhat experimental in nature. The music was composed by Corea with the exception of the title track of the second album which was written by Stanley Clarke. Lyrics were often written by Corea’s friend Neville Potter, and were quite often Scientology-themed. Clarke himself became involved in Scientology through Corea, but eventually left the religion in the early 1980s.
Their first album, titled simply Return to Forever, was recorded for ECM Records in 1972, and was initially released only in Europe. This album featured Corea’s now famous compositions “Crystal Silence” and “La Fiesta”. Shortly afterwards, Corea, Airto, Clarke and Tony Williams formed the band for Stan Getz‘s album Captain Marvel (1972), which featured Corea’s compositions, including some from the first and second Return to Forever albums. Their second album, Light as a Feather (1973), was released by Polydor and included the song “Spain“, which also became quite well known.
Jazz rock era (1973–1976)
After the second album, Farrell, Purim and Moreira left the group to form their own band, and guitarist Bill Connors, drummer Steve Gadd and percussionist Mingo Lewis were added. However, Gadd was unwilling to tour with the band and risk his job as an in-demand session drummer. Lenny White (who had played with Corea in Miles Davis‘s band) replaced Gadd and Lewis on drums and percussion, and the group’s third album, Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy (1973), was then re-recorded (the first recording, featuring Gadd on drums, was never released and has since disappeared).
The nature of the group’s music had by now completely changed into jazz-rock, and had evolved into a similar vein as to that the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, and some progressive rock bands were also performing at the time. Their music was still relatively melodic, relying on strong themes, but the jazz element was by this time almost entirely absent, replaced by a more direct, rock oriented approach. Over-driven, distorted guitar had also become prominent in the band’s new sound, and Clarke had by then switched almost completely to electric bass guitar. A replacement on vocals was not hired, and all the songs were now instrumentals. This change did not lead to a decrease in the band’s commercial fortunes however, Return to Forever’s jazz rock albums instead found their way onto US pop album charts.
In the September 1988 DownBeat magazine interview with Chick Corea by Josef Woodward, Josef says (page 19), “There is this general view … that … Miles [Davis] crystallized electric jazz fusion and that he sent his emissaries out.” Chick responds, “Nah, that’s Disneyland. Miles is definitely a leader … But there were other things that occurred that I thought were equally important. What John McLaughlin did with the electric guitar set the world on its ear. No one ever heard an electric guitar played like that before, and it certainly inspired me. … John’s band, more than my experience with Miles, led me to want to turn the volume up and write music that was more dramatic and made your hair move.”
While their second jazz rock album, Where Have I Known You Before (1974) was similar in style to its immediate predecessor, Corea now played synthesizers in addition to electric keyboards (including piano), and Clarke’s playing had evolved considerably- now using flange and fuzz-tone effects, and with his signature style beginning to emerge. After Bill Connors left the band to concentrate on his solo career, the group also hired new guitarists. Although Earl Klugh played guitar for some of the group’s live performances, he was soon replaced by the then 19-year-old guitar prodigy Al Di Meola, who had also played on the album recording sessions.
Their following album, No Mystery (1975), was recorded with the same line-up as Where Have I Known You Before, but the style of music had become more varied. The first side of the record consisted primarily of jazz-funk, while the second side featured Corea’s acoustic title track and a long composition with a strong Spanish influence. On this and the following album, each member of the group composed at least one of the tracks. No Mystery went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Performance by a Group.
The final album by this longest-lasting “classic” lineup of the group, which had by this time left Polydor for Columbia Records, was Romantic Warrior (1976), the best selling of all Return to Forever’s efforts, eventually reaching gold disc status. Romantic Warrior continued their experiments in the realms of jazz-rock and related musical genres, and was lauded by critics for both the technically demanding style of its compositions as well as for its accomplished musicianship.
After the release of Romantic Warrior and Return to Forever’s subsequent tour in support (as well as having in addition signed a multimillion-dollar contract with CBS), Corea shocked Clarke by deciding to change the lineup of the group and to not include either White or Di Meola.
Final album (1977)
The final incarnation of Return to Forever featured Corea, Clarke and Joe Farrell as well as a four-piece horn section and Corea’s wife Gayle Moran on vocals, but recorded only one studio album, Musicmagic (1977).
In 1978, after issuing a live album of the tour titled Return to Forever Live: The Complete Concert (a four-LP set, also released in edited form as a single LP and later as a double CD), Chick Corea officially disbanded the group.
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