RETURN TO FOREVER — The Mothership Returns (review)

RETURN TO FOREVER — The Mothership Returns album cover Live album · 2012 · Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
At long last, the mothership returns! Return to Forever are back with their fifth live record to date, and what a record it is! The band may be getting older, but by no means has their talent diminished at all.

This lineup of the band, which was dubbed Return to Forever IV for the tour, has a few changes from the classic lineup: Frank Gambale takes over guitar duties from Al Di Meola, and Jean-Luc Ponty adds his violin expertise to the outfit. The usual suspects - Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White - are of course all present as well.

The first thing I noticed listening to this album was the sound quality, which is incredibly rich and full for a live recording. While the sound here is practically studio quality, the rawness of the live performance is still captured. As a result, this is one of the better sounding live albums out there.

As far as material goes, this double live album contains a mix of Return to Forever's hard-hitting, cosmic fusion and their acoustic work. The music here predominantly consists of songs from the group's classic works Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy and Romantic Warrior. It's fair to say that the material has stood the test of time, with Chick Corea's compositions, most notably, remaining relevant with their complex, well thought-out structures that still leave plenty of room for improvisation.

Speaking of improvisation, you'll be hearing a lot of it; practically every song here features an extended solo from each of the lead musicians. It's not uncommon for one song to have upwards of ten minutes worth of solos on it. These are some of the best fusion players in the world, however, and know how to keep a solo engaging. Some of the performances here are really mind-blowing!

If you're familiar with Return to Forever, you know that these guys are experts on their instruments. Chick Corea, like usual, awes the crowd with his quintessential work on the Fender Rhodes and other keyboard instruments. Stanley Clarke is at the top of his game here as well, showing off his signature percussive electric and upright bass work. As for Lenny White, he really rocks the kit and offers some of the best rhythmic support that fusion has to offer. While Frank Gambale lacks some of the latin flair and the acoustic stylings of Al Di Meola, his renowned electric playing is great and proves that he is a capable soloist and comper and overall an adequate substitute. Finally, Jean-Luc Ponty likewise proves to be an excellent addition to the band's lineup with great violin playing.

My only complaint as far as the music on this album is concerned is that Frank Gambale and Jean-Luc Ponty's duties are far too similar, meaning that they are often playing the exact same lines. While I understand and appreciate that fast, unison lines are a staple of Return to Forever, it still would have been nice to hear some harmonies or other variances.

If you like jazz fusion or Return to Forever's music, even just a little bit, you'll want to hear this album. The sound quality is exceptional. The musicians are exceptional. Every single track is exceptional (both in composition and performance). I don't know what else to say other than that this may very well be fusion's finest live outing in the past several years.

(Originally published on
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