Saturday, November 7, 2009

November 7: Chick Corea, "Return To Forever"

Artist: Chick Corea
Album: Return To Forever
Year: 1972
Label: ECM

As is the case with nearly every genre, when there is a time of high musical experimentation, many of the greatest innovations get lost in the chaos of those that "breakthrough" into the mainstream. Yet, in many cases, those albums that do get overlooked are pushed to a cult-like and iconic status in the following years. As the jazz fusion movement took off in the early 1970's, nearly every jazz "great" presented their own vision of this new movement, and it led to some of the most pivotal and amazing moments in the entire history of music. Among these greats to emerge from the birth of the jazz-fusion movement was one of the most talented sidemen of the 1960's, piano master, Chick Corea. Having spent time as a key piece in the bands of Miles Davis and Stan Getz among others, Corea began to assemble his own group, and infused their sound with his own Latin-American heritage. Taking the wild explorations of Sun Ra, the funky jazz fusion of Herbie Hancock, and all the experience he gained as part of Miles Davis' backing band, the music that Chick Corea created with this group, Return To Forever, completely changed the face of music, and their innovations began an entirely new musical style. All of the greatness and genius of Return To Forever can be found on the first album they released as a group, Chick Corea's 1972 album, Return To Forever.

While Return To Forever is also the name of the quintet of musicians that Corea assembled for the album, the record itself is generally credited as a Chick Corea "solo" recording. Though this group would release another six albums over the next few years with group credit, their debut retains its "solo" titling to this day. The record itself, like so many jazz recordings, was largely misunderstood upon its initial release. Far more mellow and melodic than the approach begin taken by fusion groups like The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return To Forever did not even see a U.S. release until almost three full years after its release. By the time the world woke up to the genius found within the for compositions on the album, the group had already had a few lineup changes and released three more studio recordings. However, it is this original lineup, and their first album together that is nothing short of stunning. Taking a far more mellow approach to jazz fusion, the quintet create wonderfully blissful sonic textures, with airy, almost angelic vocal passages, and mix in a brilliant Latin aesthetic as well. This unique musical approach sets Return To Forever aside from their contemporaries, and their sound and musicianship remain unmatched to this day. While Chick Corea would alter the lineup of Return To Forever over the years, the grouping of musicians he presents on the groups' debut ensured that the album would fall nothing short of spectacular.

As is in the case with a majority of albums of this caliber, the musicians found on Return To Forever are all music legends in their own right. The amazing part is, that when these superb players all come together, instead of competing for the spotlight, they move as a single unit, and the sounds they create are nothing short of stunning. Perhaps the most recognizable name aside from Corea that is found within the group is that of bass master, Stanley Clarke. By far one of the most revered and influential bassists in history, Clarke switches plays both electric and acoustic on Return To Forever, and it is often his interactions with Corea that give the song their mood. Aiding in infusing the Latin sound is percussionist extraordinaire, Airto Moreira. The Brazilian native made his name as one of the central players on Miles Davis' groundbreaking recording, Bitches' Brew. His work on Return To Forever is equally as inspired and important, and the rhythms he creates are often nothing short of intoxicating. Lending both flute and saxophone to the album is none other than the great Joe Farrell. His playing, especially on the epic composition, "Sometime Ago - La Fiesta" are nothing short of brilliant, and his additions offer the perfect punctuation to each track. The final member of Return To Forever is vocalist Flora Purim. Assisting Moreira (her husband) with percussion, as well as lending her truly beautiful voice, it is the contributions of Purim that takes the songs form "good" to "great." There is not an off note anywhere on Return To Forever, and the way in which the musicians interact with one another is truly awe-inspiring.

Even with the amazing musicians behind him, the true genius behind Return To Forever lies within the brilliant compositions and vision of Chick Corea. Composing each of the four songs himself, Corea shows no fear in terms of exploring mixed time signatures, different cultural sounds, as well as contrasting the music with sparse passages backed up to massive walls of sound. Corea himself plays flawlessly on every track, and the way in which he leads the band makes him easily one of the greatest jazz leaders in history. All of this genius can be found on the albums' monumental second side, the single, twenty-three minute masterpiece, "Sometime Ago - La Fiesta." With three distinct parts, one can only assume that they were recorded back to back, and therefore work better as a single unit, as opposed to three individual pieces. Beginning with a stunning group improvisation, and then melting into a wild, Latin free-for-all, before moving back into "La Fiesta," the song is like nothing else one will ever experience anywhere else in music. With its amazing sense of tragedy, yet unquestionably upbeat, it perfectly encapsulates the Latin style of composition, and it is, in many ways, the "ultimate" moment in Latin-jazz fusion music history. Whether it is his piano work, his compositions, or the manner in which he leads the band, after experiencing Return To Forever, one cannot argue Chick Corea's place among the greatest jazz leaders in history.

As the jazz-fusion movement exploded in the early 1970's, a majority of the albums and groups took a darker, more funk based approach to the style. Finding new and creative ways to use electric pianos and synthesizers, the almost constant experimentation by many of jazz music's greatest minds produced some of the most unique and influential albums in the history of music. Fully exploring his own, unique vision of fusing together this new style of jazz with his own Latin roots, piano-great Chick Corea took a musical approach that no other artist at the time was exploring. Though it took a few years for the sound to gain ground in the U.S., one cannot deny the importance and brilliance found on the first recording of Corea's all-star quintet, Return To Forever. Bringing with him four of the most talented musicians of their generation, it is no surprise that the music the group creates also ranks among the finest of the era. Whether it is the bass-work of Stanley Clarke or the percussive genius of Airto Moreira, the rhythms found throughout Return To Forever stand among the most original and extraordinary ever created in any genre. Complimented by the brilliant flute and saxophone of Joe Farrell and the intoxicating, almost enchanting voice of Flora Purim, there is simply no other album that compares to the sound of Return To Forever. Having already established himself as one of the greatest side-musicians in history, Chick Corea proves to be one of the most innovative and brilliant musical minds ever with the release of his absolutely stunning 1972 album, Return To Forever.

Standout tracks: "Return to Forever," "Crystal Silence," and "Sometime Ago - La Fiesta."

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