RETURN TO FOREVER — Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy (review)

RETURN TO FOREVER — Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy album cover Album · 1973 · Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Sean Trane
RTF’s first overhaul is a major one, and it can be seen this way: the first line-up was more of an early Weather Report, with Farrell’s sax and flute as Wayne Shorter, while the second line=up with the appearance of a fiery guitarist can be seen more of Mahavishnu Orchestra-type of group. But the shuffle goes well beyond that: Gone are Purim’s disputable vocals, while Farrell’s always delightful flute also disappeared (taking away so of the sweet evocative passages from RTF’s music), but the light bossa nova rhythms of Airto Moreira are replaced by the ex-Miles & Santana drummer Lenny White, whose drumming is much closer to Cobham (first era of MO), thus reinforcing the parallel I made just above. So with only Corea and Clarke remaining from the original line-up, the group also welcomed previously unknown Bill Connors on guitar, which showed a strong affinity to McLaughlin’s fiery style. Recorded in NY in the summer of 73, the album again developed a bird theme artwork for an aerial gatefold sleeve.

Red hot jazz-rock or torrid fusion, such is the choice… The album opens on some cosmic sounds announcing the title track, but soon the track reaches cosmic speed with White’s fluid and furious drumming, Connors’ soaring guitar and Corea’s amazing piano. The Clarke-penned Cosmic Rain is a very funky track, where Stanley doesn’t hesitate to outdo every other bassist (jazz or rock) in terms of technicity and virtuosity, even using some fuzz bass ala Canterbury, well supported by Corea’s Fender Rhodes. Captain Mouse is probably the album’s best-known track with Corea’s Rhodes ruling from its 200 MPH start to its much quieter middle section (he soars to stratospheric heights, while adding the odd organ lines over Connors’ funky guitar lines. Mothership continues the 1000°C fusion with mind-blowing soloing, even if some of Chick’s synth sounds could’ve been better advised. The two-parts Space Circus starts on an echoed Rhodes over sound effects for an intro, before the group gets mega-funky (not just Clarke, Connors is brilliant, White frankly at home and Chick his usual self. The closing Game Maker is well in line with the rest of this fiery fusion-esque torrid jazz-rock, a Rhodes-drenched slow starter that gradually builds up to reach speed of light with Connors’s incendiary guitar between Carlos, John and Larry.

Strangely enough, Connors will quit the group to pursue a solo career (a very confidential one to say the least, as he remained obscure forever) to concentrate on his acoustic playing, which might astound more than one expert since it was on electric guitar that his works were most stunning, his style hovering between McLaughlin and Larry Coryell. Nevertheless the album he recorded with RTF is simply the best of the group, even when including the previous lene-up’s two albums. HOTSG is an astounding record that inspired itself on the early MO albums such as Birds Of Fire or Inner Mounting Flame, without being a carbon copy either. Undoubtedly the best RTF album, no matter what people will say about ADM’s future admission and the famed but over=rated RW album.

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