If you're in the right mood, it can be a thrilling ride.
Jon Lusk 2008-07-18
'Jazz fusion' might be an expletive to many, but if you're looking for an authentically pioneering example, this quintessentially seventies band is pretty much archetypal. Like so many bands of their era, they've just reformed and are touring in support of this remastered and remixed collection, drawn from the four albums they made between 1973 and 1976.
The first and last, Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy and Romantic Warrior (their biggest commercial and artistic success) are presented in their entirety. Disappointingly, there's nothing from their first two albums, when the band featured vocalist Flora Purim and her percussionist husband Airto Moreira, nor anything by the group's third incarnation, which made the bombastic Musicmagic in 1977 (perhaps a blessing). So this is really Return To Forever Mk. 2 – all instrumental, electric, often loud, wildly energetic, and showing plenty in common with contemporary prog. rock bands such as King Crimson, and (in their sillier moments) even Emerson Lake & Palmer. Only funkier.
So, if smooth, reflective jazz is your thing, or you thought Miles Davis went off the rails when he went electric on Bitches Brew – which Chick Corea played on two years before founding Return To Forever – this is definitely not for you. And if less-is-more for you when it comes to notes-per-solo, avoid. The key to appreciating this music is not to search for stuff that isn't there (memorable melodic narrative? Soulfulness? Pass...). With its strong emphasis on technical brilliance and lack of any real emotional engagement, this is very 'male' music, and easier to admire than enjoy. But if you're in the right mood, it can be a thrilling ride. Check the inspired virtuoso interplay between Chick Corea's keyboards and Bill Connors' guitar on Theme To The Mothership, or virtually any of the impressive noodling by his even tighter replacement Al Di Meola. Or Lenny White's frantic drumming on Song To The Pharaoh Kings. Or the playful inventiveness of The Magician …Just don't expect any quiet interludes to last long, or to be able to hum anything afterwards. And stop sniggering at those absurd titles!