[JPL] LA Times: Return to Forever joins the here and now
Bobby.Jackson at ideastream.org
Mon Feb 18 11:48:22 EST 2008
Welcome back RTF!!!!!!!! One of my favorite groups of all time!
From: jazzproglist-bounces at jazzweek.com [mailto:jazzproglist-bounces at jazzweek.com] On Behalf Of Doug Crane
Sent: Monday, February 18, 2008 3:39 AM
To: Jazz Programmers Mailing List
Subject: [JPL] LA Times: Return to Forever joins the here and now
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Return to Forever joins the here and now.
By Don Heckman, Special to The LA Times
February 17, 2008
CHICK COREA is smiling. In fact, he's beaming.
Seated behind his Minimoog and his Fender Rhodes
keyboards, arms and hands in motion, kicking out
one brisk rhythmic phrase after another, making
constant eye contact with the musicians around
him -- guitarist Al Di Meola, bassist Stanley
Clarke and drummer Lenny White -- he's obviously feeling great.
Wait a minute: Corea, Di Meola, Clarke and White?
That's the classic lineup of Return to Forever,
one of the groups that defined the jazz-rock
fusion of the '70s. They haven't played together
in 25 years, swore they'd never have a reunion.
Right. But never say never. (Look at the Eagles).
Return to Forever is, well, returning. And last
week, the rehearsals were already underway for
the RTF reunion tour that undoubtedly will be the big jazz news of the summer.
Corea, 66, nods happily, shouts, "Great, great!"
then turns back to his instruments, roving
blithely across the electric keyboards,
emphasizing the crisp clank of the Rhodes,
tossing in wisps of slippery sound from his
Minimoog. Di Meola adds shimmering electric
guitar fills, while Clarke and White dig into the
groove, driving the beat forward with muscular percussive textures.
A briskly articulated melodic figure from Clarke
immediately attracts Corea's attention. He nods
his head -- "Yeah!" -- and Clarke picks up the
solo thread, responding with his
characteristically fluid, mobile, acoustic bass lines.
The loose and swinging mood continues, triggering
a palpable sense of joy in the room -- the eye
contact and spontaneous smiles exchanged by the
players visible indications of the music's rich improvisational symbiosis.
It's the real deal: Return to Forever, back again
-- bringing a 21st century perspective to the
visceral blend of rock energy with the
improvisation and compositional structures of
jazz that made the quartet a phenomenon of the
'70s, competing with outfits such as Yes,
Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Weather Report and the
Mahavishnu Orchestra for the favor of both jazz and prog-rock audiences.
'Snowball in hell'
RTF's return to action took place in the Mad
Hatter Studios on the Los Feliz edge of Hollywood
-- a sprawling, well-equipped facility that has
been the recording destination of choice for such
artists as Prince, Paul McCartney and Beck.
Founded by Corea in 1980, it was sold in 2003 to
Golden Era Productions, the audio-visual arm of
the Church of Scientology, which counts Corea among its members.
Corea was clearly delighted to be back in his old
digs, which have been considerably remodeled
since the studio changed hands. Earlier in the
evening, there'd been some playful banter about
what to call the Return to Forever tour. If the
Eagles 1994 reunion was called "Hell Freezes
Over," maybe this constitutes "The Snowball in Hell Tour."
Corea, the group's founder, laughingly explained
that they'd probably stick with the more mundane
"RTF World Tour Summer '08." And stacks of
printed T-shirts, emblazoned with the RTF logo
(as well as a photo, on the back, of the four
members in their younger, more hirsute days) were
already in boxes, ready for a pair of tours that
will cover the U.S. starting in late May
(including a performance at Gibson Amphitheatre)
and Europe next year. (An announcement with details is slated for March 3.)
Another important item also had to be jammed into
the band's busy schedule at Mad Hatter -- photographs.
And here, in an unexpected way, the "Snowball in
Hell" reference resurfaced when photographer Lynn
Goldsmith called for an offbeat image set-up.
Garbed in heavy winter overcoats, positioned
around piles of suitcases and instrument boxes,
the players assumed their best band-on-the-run
poses, their sunglasses registering incongruently
with the winter fashion imagery.
Goldsmith, darting from one side to another,
shouted instructions and encouragement, her
camera clicking madly, eager to catch a spirited moment.
Most jazz musicians are notoriously uncooperative
photo subjects -- when they're not playing their
instruments. And the RTF guys were no exception,
their lugubrious responses to Goldsmith's
commands the polar opposite of the spirit in their music.
Word about the upcoming tour had begun to leak
out, and the studio was anything but empty. A few
people from Corea's management company, various
techies adjusting the lighting, Corea's wife,
Gayle Moran -- a singer in her own right, who
performed in a late-'70s version of Return to
Forever -- all watched the photo session closely,
each offering an occasional instructive remark.
"Tell Chick to take off his glasses," Moran
called out, trying to help matters along. Then,
to a bystander: "He has such beautiful eyes."
Corea flashed her a wan glance.
The photo session completed, he seemed much
happier taking a break for a chat with the other
RTF players and a journalist eager for answers to
some fundamental questions: Why this, why now?
Responses came quickly. Looking relaxed and not
hesitating to be gregarious, they sprawled across
a couch and a love seat, often responding with
the same quick-witted interplay they had brought to the music.
"I made the decision a couple of years ago,"
Corea said, "to just turn the heat all the way up
on live performance. I started resisting going on
the road, like you do when you get older -- stop
traveling, stay home. But no, man. If I had
pursued that way, it was the way downhill to
death. No. 1, performing is my bread and butter.
But more than that, it's the thing I love doing most."
Di Meola noted that there had been a previous
attempt at a reunion in 1982. He referred to it, disparagingly, as a "blip."
"The reunion lasted a month," he added. "So I
like to make it more interesting by saying it's
been 30-something years since the last time Return to Forever was together."
During those years -- which actually date to the
summer of 1974, when Di Meola, then 19, joined
Corea, Clarke and White in RTF -- each of the
players had moved on with their individual careers.
Corea, always overflowing with creative ideas,
led his Elektric Band, Akoustic Band and the
groups Touchstone and Origin; created dozens of
new compositions; recorded Mozart; and
occasionally paired up with the likes of Herbie
Hancock, Béla Fleck and Gary Burton.
The other members were following their own muses.
A reunion seemed less and less likely as the
years passed. Di Meola focused on his busy solo
career, leading his own groups and partnering
with others -- guitarists John McLaughlin, Larry
Coryell and Bireli Lagrene, and violinist Jean-Luc Ponty among them.
Clarke, 56, jokingly noted that "I was actually
so busy I didn't even remember I played with
Return to Forever." Met with derisive laughter
from the other group members, he added, "Hey,
man, there were a lot of years when I came off
the road and just did movie scores, sometimes two
or three movies a year, plus television shows."
"But," he added with a grin, "I wasn't
considering dropping the bass completely."
Nor was White, 58, thinking of abandoning his
drums while he was working as a producer. He did,
however, have his doubts that a reunion would ever take place.
"We had gone through so many questions," he said,
"of people asking, 'When is it going to happen?'
and it would get to a certain point and it
wouldn't go any further. Then things began to
change, and people started listening to different
kinds of music -- to the point where I just said,
'Man, I just don't think it is going to happen.'
But then we started talking. And I felt that
maybe the time had finally become right musically
for something like this to happen."
Adding some twists
BACK in the studio, White's speculative feeling
came to life with a rehearsal virtually
guaranteeing that the "time had finally come" for RTF to return.
They'll be returning without new material, but
audiences won't be simply hearing the same old
songs. Corea had insisted earlier that he planned
"to take the songs from the albums we made in the
'70s and just play them like they've never been
played before." Which is exactly what they did in
their rehearsal of "500 Miles High," a tune
recorded by an earlier installment of RTF, before Di Meola joined.
The goal was to integrate Di Meola's guitar into
the steaming pocket that the rhythm section had
created, while adding his cutting edge,
guitar-god wail and fiery, rocket-propelled,
fusion-driven lines. It took a couple of passes
before the piece began to come together, the big
room reverberating with the visceral power of the
sound and the infectious body-moving influence of the rhythm.
Other pieces followed, a mixture of technical
rehearsing and the reestablishment of their
former cohesiveness: Corea propelling it all
forward with enthusiasm; Clarke, ripping off a
fast-fingered riff, pausing in dissatisfaction
before trying it all over again; Di Meola carving
out his role in the music, allowing it to evolve
with each successive try; White, the spark plug,
embracing the love affair between rock and jazz rhythms.
As the music unfolded, Corea's summing up of what
had really brought these players back together --
taking a break from their busy individual careers
to revive an elusive musical ghost -- came to mind.
"For me," he said, "what made me want to do it
was just recalling how great the feeling was
playing with these guys. Just the experience of
playing, when I thought, 'Wow, yeah, that was an
amazing period -- fun, creative, exciting.' And
then, when we finally sat down for the first time
the other day and started touching the
instruments -- boom!" He snapped his fingers.
"There it was. All the talk went away, and we
were back into the music, back into RTF, right where we belonged."
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