If you’re planning to see “Return to Forever IV” when the group performs at Meadow Brook on Friday, August 19, you’re in for a treat. Check out this review from the New York Times.
“Jazz Fusion Heroes of the 1970s Resurrect Their Intimate Dynamics”
By Jon Pareles
Return to Forever IV showed off every which way on Friday night at the Beacon Theater. Otherwise the group wouldn’t have been doing its job. Jazz-rock fusion, as pioneered by previous lineups of Return to Forever in the 1970s, glorifies confrontational virtuosity. Composers show off by writing breakneck melodies, sudden meter shifts and quick-change structures; musicians show off by executing every whipsaw maneuver with pinpoint accuracy and improvising with a flourish. Done right, the music is a display of jet-fueled aerobatics; done wrong, it can be exhausting.
Luckily, Return to Forever IV was largely airborne. Its lineup includes its two founders and main composers, the keyboardist Chick Corea and the bassist Stanley Clarke. Lenny White, on drums, joined the second version of Return to Forever in 1973, when it was a quartet with a guitarist; a four-piece Return to Forever, with Al Di Meola on guitar, reunited in 2008. Now Mr. Di Meola has been replaced by the guitarist Frank Gambale, and the group has a violinist: Jean-Luc Ponty, who worked with Frank Zappa and then the Mahavishnu Orchestra in the 1970s before leading his own groups.
The sound is still deliberately 1970s. Mr. Corea’s current keyboard setup simulates the sound of his old Fender Rhodes electric piano, and he gets flutelike tones and wriggling, swooping notes from a Minimoog Voyager. But this iteration of Return to Forever is airier and less bombastic than its immediate predecessor.
In the new lineup Mr. Ponty’s violin states melodies as often as Mr. Gambale’s electric guitar, bringing a rustic touch rather than rock aggression.
Mr. Gambale is noted in guitar circles for his technique called sweep picking — playing fast passagework while strumming across the guitar strings instead of stopping to pick one string at a time — and he had plenty of speed at his disposal. He joined in neatly on the unison lines that were landmarks in the compositions, and he often soloed with high, wailing, bluesy lines followed by shredder arpeggios down below. As the lesser-known band member — and the only one who didn’t compose anything in the set — Mr. Gambale didn’t grapple for the spotlight.
Jazz and rock were only part of Return to Forever’s fusion. From the beginning Mr. Corea also dipped into flamenco, salsa and Brazilian music, and with Mr. White the group got an infusion of funk. The Beacon set roved widely, putting most pieces through multigenre transformations: impressionist chords and salsa amid the acoustic filigree of Mr. Corea’s “Romantic Warrior,” splintery piano abstractions over a funk vamp in Mr. White’s “Sorceress,” a near-gospel gallop emerging from Mr. Clarke’s reflective “After the Cosmic Rain.”
Mr. Corea played with a nimble transparency that turned every phrase into a puckish epigram, whether in solos or teasing at the edge of ensembles. Mr. Clarke was the group’s rock-star presence. He’s a die-hard 1970s-style thumb popper. On electric or acoustic bass he might start out rich toned and melodic, but that soon gave way to acceleration and percussiveness, until he was slapping and snapping strings so hard that pitch was irrelevant. He was the over-the-top showboater in a group that used most of its flashiness well.
Sharing the bill was Zappa Plays Zappa, the guitarist Dweezil Zappa’s band devoted to music by his father, Frank, which savors his knottiest compositions. Pieces like “Fifty-Fifty” and “St. Alphonzo’s Pancake Breakfast” are full-tilt attention-deficit workouts, compulsively hopping through brief musical bits, skipping beats and interrupting themselves, answering lyrics with outbursts of sound effects or musical mockery. The band played them meticulously, but there were few laughs or gasps; this was repertory, and the old jolts were familiar.