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Music Review: Return To Forever – The Anthology

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Earlier this year, jazz-rock fusion supergroup Return To Forever announced plans for a reunion tour after something like twenty years. They are actually playing tonight here in Seattle, and quite frankly I’m kinda’ pissed that I’m going to be missing it.

You see, back in their day, RTF was what you would call a band of “musician’s musicians.”

Simply put, these guys were the shit.

Keyboardist and bandleader Chick Corea (“Our fearless leader,” as bassist Stanley Clarke likes to call him) had already long since established his own reputation as a virtuoso on the keys with his work on seminal jazz albums like Miles Davis’ groundbreaking fusion masterpiece Bitches Brew. Guitarist Al DiMeola was something of a prodigy at the time, though his lightning fast runs would later influence no less an axe slinger than Jeff Beck on albums like Blow By Blow. Drummer Lenny White’s only real rival at the time was Billy Cobham.

And as for bassist Stanley Clarke? Well, he was simply something else entirely — basically reinventing the bass, and along with Larry Graham forever popularizing the “popping” style that remains a cornerstone of funk to this day.

But the other thing about RTF was that this was a band that rock audiences really got. In an era where the progressive rock of bands like Yes and Genesis raised the standards of pure musicianship within the game, this was a group of guys who were really without equal. Well, with the possible exception of Joe Zawinul’s Weather Report and John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra anyway.

Their run was brief, producing four great albums in the mid-seventies: Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy, Where Have I Known You Before, the Grammy winning No Mystery, and their commercial breakthrough Romantic Warrior. On this just released two disc anthology, the best of those four records are brought together just in time for the reunion tour.

So rather than get into a track by track breakdown here, I’m just going to cut right to the chase. If, like me, you are in any way dazzled by blinding displays of four great musicians playing their asses off, then you need to get this CD. The way these four guys gel together is simply nothing short of amazing from a strictly musical standpoint.

Again to cut somewhat to the chase, Corea’s “light as a feather” keyboard flourishes provide the color. DiMeola’s lightning fast guitar runs provide the flash, while Clarke’s bass popping and White’s razor tight drumming anchors it all down with a rock solid funk foundation.

These guys were a once in a lifetime combination of some of the greatest pure musical talent in the world. The good news is I hear they plan on sticking around long enough to make some more music together once the reunion tour is done. In the meantime, this collection will do just fine.

About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.