They flex their muscles gleefully on standards and originals alike.
Kevin Le Gendre 2011-05-03
When pianist Chick Corea, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White joined forces with guitarist Al Di Meola for a reunion gig of their mid-70s fusion behemoth Return to Forever a few years ago, the results were perfunctory rather than progressive. All of the expected chops were there, but the cutting edge was largely absent. Cynics may well cock a snook at this venture which showcases the triumvirate within that group – Corea, Clarke and White – yet it would be unfair for fusionphobes to rush to judgment.
For a start, this is a two-CD set that shows that, for all of their desire to wade into the choppy waters of electric jazz-rock, Corea et al were very much anchored in hard-swinging acoustic bebop, which is highlighted by tracks recorded live at venues such as Yoshi’s in California. As one would expect, musicians with 50-something years of playing experience flex their muscles quite gleefully on standards such as Bill Evans’ Waltz for Debby and Monk’s Hackensack, where the soloing, interplay and split-second timing amid high-tempo exchanges of ideas are masterful. However, things become perhaps more interesting when the trio reprises Corea’s No Mystery, an acoustic piece originally recorded right in the middle of RTF’s electric saturnalia. The music is just as powerful, regardless of the absence of a battery of synthesizers and wah wah pedals, primarily because Clarke has a huge, robust tone that lends as much backbone to the ensemble sound as would be the case were any guitars and keys involved.
Disc two consolidates the electro-acoustic continuum by augmenting the trio with skilled RTF alumnus, guitarist Bill Connors as well as ex-Frank Zappa violinist Jean-Luc Ponty. The improvisations don’t lack any bite, but the arrangements just feel too telegraphic, showcasing one guest after another; the end result is much less engaging than the trio, possibly because the Corea-Clarke-White core is so cohesive. Soul diva Chaka Khan, who recorded with the trio back in the 80s, makes a welcome appearance on a charming Corea original High Wire – The Aerialist and the Gershwin evergreen I Loves You Porgy.