Although the ’70s jazz-rock supergroup did get together for a brief reunion tour in 1983 (some new music was written for the occasion but never recorded), Return to Forever’s last album came in 1976 (Romantic Warrior). That’s 33 years between releases. Remarkably, the fire and chemistry that characterized this formidable foursome in its heyday is still very much intact after all these years. Recorded during the group’s triumphant 2008 tour, this two-CD set delivers all the impossibly tight unisons, cascading streams of 64th notes and virtuosic soloing that longtime RTF fans have come to expect from their heroes.
After “Opening Prayer,” a brief overture that Chick Corea wrote especially for this tour, they launch into “Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy,” an early RTF anthem that highlights Al Di Meola’s speed-demon fretboard flurries. Stanley Clarke’s “Vulcan Worlds” is a hard-charging funk vehicle stretched out to nearly 14-minutes to accommodate extended and fiery solos by Di Meola, Corea on electric piano and synths and Clarke on electric bass, reprising his signature fleet-fingered lines and revolutionary thumb-slapping technique while incorporating familiar motifs from his jam favorites, “Lopsy Lu” and “Silly Putty,” along the way. Lenny White’s funky “Sorceress,” from the band’s Where Have I Known You Before, captures some of their early ’70s swagger while showcasing a much more fully developed Di Meola and a more harmonically adventurous Corea on their respective solos. (And check Clarke’s quoting of P-Funk’s “Flashlight” bassline underneath Di Meola’s solo in the slowed-down funk section of “Sorceress.”) CD one also includes a virtuosic solo acoustic guitar spot by Di Meola, performing excerpts from his compositions “Passion Grace & Fire” and “Mediterranean Sundance” along with an arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s “Cafe 1930” while also dueting with Corea on “Children’s Song #3” and “Spain.” But the highwater mark of the first CD is a 27-minute performance of Corea’s “Song to the Pharoah Kings” (also from 1974’s WHIKYB), which served as a dynamic first-set closer on their 2008 tour.
CD two includes extended solo pieces by Corea, Clarke and White, along with faithful recreations of Corea’s “Romantic Warrior” and “Duel of the Jester and the Tyrant.” There’s also a brief trio rendition of Miles Davis’ “Solar” with Clarke on upright bass and White swinging with brushes (a hint of things to come on an upcoming trio tour planned for this summer). Bonus tracks include a performance by the band of Corea’s classic “500 Miles High” (recorded at the 2008 Montreux Jazz Festival) and a broadcast of a BBC Lifetime Achievement Award presentation to RTF and followup acoustic performance of “Romantic Warrior.” For those RTF fans who missed them on tour last year, Returns captures all the excitement of that rare reunion.