RETURN TO FOREVER — The Anthology (review)

RETURN TO FOREVER — The Anthology album cover Boxset / Compilation · 2008 · Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
In 1972, I had the good fortune to hear the first two Return to Forever albums (RTF and Light as a Feather). These were excellent Latin-tinged jazz, with some obvious electric influence, since Chick Corea had spent a few years with the classic electric Miles Davis bands. In 1973, I had the good fortune to go see RTF in a small venue (<500 seats). You might imagine my confusion to see Marshall double-stacks on the stage. Just how loudly were they going to play this Latin-tinged jazz? When the four band members took the stage with their instruments, I was confused. Where's Airto and Flora and Joe Farrell? This looked like a rock band. Once they played, well everyone in the audience was on a taken on a new musical ride.

So good enough, here we have a 2-CD set that bundles up the four classic RTF albums into one convenient package. The nice thing about this is that the first and fourth albums are presented in their entirety. Although the second and third get somewhat short shrift, what's missing is minimal.

One could make a pretty convincing argument that Return to Forever's Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy is to fusion what ITCOTKC is to progressive rock. As mentioned, here it is presented completely. This album differs from its contemporaries (Weather Report's Sweetnighter, Herbie Hancock's Headhunters) in that it features the fully integrated and extremely loud electic guitar of Bill Connors. The complexity and chord progressions of the songs and solos may hearken back to electric jazz, but this is a tear-off-your-face rock album with jazz influences, rather than the other way around. It was at the time a bold move, and many of us who were growing tired of prog, as it started sinking under its own weight, suddenly had a reason to be excited about loud, complex, electric rock again. The instrumentation is minimal: guitar, bass, electric piano (and perhaps organ, on the album), and drums.

With the success of the first album, Chick apparently made enough bucks to buy himself a few synths, which are used in full force on Where Have I Known You Before. Bill Connors also hit the road, being replaced by Al DiMeola, though Stanley and Lenny are still on board. So this was a transitional album, and the songs stretch out a bit more and there's more synthesizer noodling as Corea comes to terms with his new toys and their potential, but these songs are still wonderful listening.

The second CD picks up with the best of No Mystery, which was probably the weakest of the albums. It's a bit more funk-driven, perhaps a nod to Headhunters' success. However the Celebration Suite (included here) is excellent fusion.

Finally, we get all of Romantic Warrior, which many consider to be RTF's finest moment. Myself, I find it to be somewhat overblown (jeez, hadn't that just happened with prog) though you'll find no fault in the quality of the compositions or musicians. Duel of the Jester and the Tyrant is amongst their finest songs, with appropriate musical themes from the protagonists of the title.

Quick summary: The obvious shortcoming here is that we don't get all four albums presented in total, but that would have upped the price no doubt. However, for those just getting acquainted with this remarkable band, this is a great way to go and in fact may be all you need. The remastered sound is pristine, there are credible liner notes for those interested in the history of the band, and of course there's the music, which deserves every one of the five stars I give it.
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