CHICK COREA — Return to Forever

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CHICK COREA - Return to Forever cover
4.30 | 39 ratings | 5 reviews
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Album · 1972

Filed under Fusion


A1 Return To Forever 12:06
A2 Crystal Silence 6:55
A3 What Game Shall We Play Today 4:26
B Sometime Ago - La Fiesta 23:18

Total Time: 46:49


- Chick Corea / Electric Piano
- Airto Moreira /Drums, Percussion
- Stanley Clarke /Electric Bass, Double Bass
- Joe Farrell /Flute [Flutes], Soprano Saxophone
- Flora Purim /Vocals, Percussion

About this release

ECM Records ‎– ECM 1022 ST(Germany)

Recorded February 2 & 3, 1972 at A & R Studios, New York City

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It seems that in any musical genre, the most creative work goes down during the days in which said genre is being created. For sure the most intense bebop happened in the early 40s, and although you may still hear some good bop to this day, it will never be quite the same again. The same could also be said for jazz fusion, a genre that became an easy target for criticism over time, but in the heady days of its inception, some really interesting music was created under the fusion moniker, which leads us to Chick Corea’s first attempt to lead a fusion group while recording the album, “Return to Forever”. Chick was hardly new to the fusion world at the time of this recording, he had already participated on several ground breaking albums by Miles Davis, but, as stated earlier, “Return to Forever” was Chick’s first fusion recording as band leader. Corea’s albums as leader prior to this were definitely shaking up the jazz world, whether he was making cutting edge post bop tracks with Roy Haynes, or avant-garde excursions with Anthony Braxton, Chick was definitely a pianist to watch in the early 70s.

Like many early fusion recordings, a ‘mystical’ scent of hippie incense hangs heavy over “Return”. Psychedelic rock and progressive rock were at a peak during this time, and their sometimes indulgent excesses were an influence on many early fusion albums. The lengthy multi-sectioned songs on here, as well as Flora Purim’s exotic wordless vocals and a good dose of spacey reverb give “Return” a definite art rock flavor, but the long-line virtuoso solos from Chick, and everyone else, are brought about by these musician’s well trained background in jazz. Chick’s solos during this time were heavily influenced by his interest in Afro-Cuban jazz, his montuno driven rhythms contain some of the fiercest playing of his entire career. Unfortunately, in a few years after this recording, much of that aggressive Afro-Cuban influence will leave Chick’s playing for good. Rising to Chick’s energetic challenge, bassist Stanley Clarke man handles the difficult and bulky stand-up bass to play driving rhythms reminiscent of Cream and James Brown, the sort of bass lines that are more easily played on an electric bass.

All of the tracks on here are excellent, but title track, “Return to Forever” and side two’s lengthy “Sometime Ago-La Fiesta” stand out in the way that the whole band comes together for some very intense interplay driven by Corea’s quasi-montuno rhythmic figures. This will always be Chick Corea’s best fusion album, later attempts in this genre by him seem to get bogged down with too many compositional ideas, and too much ‘cheerful’ cuteness.
On thing I love about this album is its ability to take on a diverse range of visceral planes while still remaining cerebrally consistent. The album is full of interesting technical instrumental and vocal work yet can jump from contemplative atmosphere churning to tart poppy jazz without betraying artistic depth.

Flora Purim is a delightful vocalist who sweetens this album to no end. Airto Moreira's percussion is also definitely worth one's attention.

Ultimately what makes this album one of my favorites is its playability. By virtue of one's ability to play it in mixed company, it grows heavy with memories and moods that other albums never have because they're meant for headphones in a bedroom. This album is good for drives, the beach, picnics, relaxed parties, anything. Go out and play it for your pop music friends.
Like a lot of music fans who grew up in the mid-'70s I was exposed at an early age to the album "Romantic Warrior", attracted no doubt either by the cool medieval cover art or by the presence of AL DI MEOLA on electric guitar ("Elegant Gypsy" being a de rigueur addition to any decent record collection at the time). But it obviously didn't leave any lasting impression, maybe because to my immature ears the genre known as Jazz-Rock Fusion was only a high priority when the music rocked a lot more than it jazzed.

But my interest in fusion has been rekindled ever since I began exploring the style at its source, from the pioneering efforts of MILES DAVIS to JOHN McLAUGHLIN to, most recently, a (re-) discovery of Chick Corea's RETURN TO FOREVER. I was hoping to see how the aforementioned "Romantic Warrior" measured up to my now older and wiser musical appetites, but the Erie County public library system only had a CD copy of this, their first album, dating from way back to early 1972. There may not even have been a band by that name at the time: it looks more like a Chick Corea album whose title was attached to the group only afterwards, which would explain its presence on this page of the Jazz Music Archives site

A moot point, once I settled in between the headphones. My initial reaction was one of curiosity, then excitement, and finally a sort of stunned bewilderment: where the hell have I been all these years?

It's amost impossible not to respond to the pure organic warmth of the music: the sunny tempos and relaxed tropical rhythms, all of it the sum of a near-magical combination of talents, led by Corea on a simple electric piano. The 12-minute title track begins and ends, for example, with a modest but haunting little theme, sandwiching a pair of energetic jams propelled by Stan Clark's busy, aggressive basslines and the controlled mayhem of Airto Moriera's percussion.

The aptly titled "Crystal Silence" is, again, a showplace for the rich, lambent tones of Corea's piano, colored by Airto's percussive allsorts and with spare saxophone accompaniment, courtesy of Joe Farrell. "What Game Shall We Play Today" is an easy- on-the-ears jazz pop song highlighting the golden soprano of Flora Purim, the vocal equivalent of a clear blue sky in summer.

All of which is only a warm-up to "Sometime Ago/La Fiesta", an ambitious 23-minute tour-de-force that must have taken up an entire side of the original vinyl. Listen to the astonishing 7+ minute introduction, with Corea setting up the Spanish melody, eventually giving way to a nimble-fingered but ferocious solo by Clarke on acoustic double-bass. Clarke then locks onto a toe-tapping groove for another 7 or 8 minutes, underneath another gorgeous Flora Purim vocal performance and some nervous flute arabesques from Farrell.

"La Fiesta" ends the album with a pulse-quickening flamenco jam (castanets included!), showcasing Farrell's virtuoso chops in a stunning free-form sax solo, over another grungy Stan Clarke double-bass workout.

It's an album of infectious optimism and light, and a godsend in digital format, without the distraction of vinyl pops and scratches to mar the more subtle interludes. The only reason I'm resisting the temptation to award it five stars is because I've only recently heard it for the first time. But if it sounds this fresh after more than thirty years I don't doubt it will soon pass my own personal test of time to become a classic with full honors.

Members reviews

The debut album of Chick Corea's famous fusion group of the same name, "Return to Forever" came about with the rise of jazz fusion in the early 70's. It is regarded as a classic of not only jazz fusion, but of jazz overall.

Being from the early 70's, post-bop influences as well as some avant-garde from Corea's earlier years are prominent in his improvisations. The first track "Return to Forever" represents this the most, in which the tune slowly gets more and more chaotic when Corea begins soloing outside of the key and Flora Purim begins screaming and shouting. Despite this, most of this album is rather accessible in which the melodies remain tonal and repetitive. "Crystal Silence" is an excellent, melancholy fusion ballad that has an almost nostalgic feel to it. It is the only track where Flora Purim doesn't sing. "What Game Shall We Play Today" is the shortest and lightest track on the album. Being led with the vocal melody, this track sounds quite a bit like something that would fit in more of a preschool setting or in any setting for small children. However, the lyrics are actually vaguely spiritual, speaking of man being set free through truth and experiencing life as paradise. "Sometime Ago/La Fiesta" begins with a really well written/improvised introduction with Corea and Clarke playing freely for around 7 minutes. Eventually Purim comes in to sing the lyrics of "Sometime Ago," a tune that feels similar to the previous track, but is more related to the rest of the album. Following this is an interlude into "La Fiesta," a latin jam which creatively flows in and out of key and time during Corea's solo.

I have found that this album is a great listen while driving in snow, especially the first two tracks and the introduction to the fourth.
Return to Forever's first album - originally presented as a Chick Corea solo album, establishes the band's sound as something quite distinct from the Mahavishnu Orchestra or Weather Report's efforts from the same era (those two bands being close siblings to RtF, since all three groups were led by veterans of Miles Davis' groundbreaking In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew sessions). The album's sound is distinguished mainly by the husband and wife percussion team of Airto Moreira and Flora Purim - with Purim's vocals generally being light and airy, though showing a bit more range in her wordless wails accompanying the opening self-titled song.

The Latin rhythms laid down by Moreira and Purim dominate the album's sound for much of the full fusion sections, though of course Corea's electric piano textures and Stanley Clarke's capable bass work is never far away. Joe Farrell, the group's wind instrument master, gets a nice chance to take the spotlight in Crystal Silence, more of a pure jazz track than a fusion track, which is focused on a gorgeous saxophone performance from him.

On the whole, this is an album which manages to be consistently pleasant but not much more than that; there's nothing mindblowing on here, and whilst the group is technically competent and more than capable of playing some fast and furious fusion - as the La Fiesta section of the sidelong Somewhere Ago/La Fiesta suite neatly demonstrates - it feels here as though they are making preliminary sketches rather than creating any truly tight and top-flight compositions. Three stars.

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