One of the most important jazz-rock fusion groups of the 1970's, Return to Forever, are back once again, this time with the 4th incarnation of the band that includes founding members Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, longtime drummer Lenny White, and new blood Jean Luc Ponty on violin and guitarist Frank Gambale. Ponty & Gambale should be strangers to nobody, as the Australian guitarist played with Corea in the Electrik Band for many years as well as Steve Smith's Vital Information and numerous solos albums, and Ponty has built a legendary solo career since the early '70s after playing with Frank Zappa. Together they have all joined forces in the next chapter of Return to Forever. This live set was recorded during their successful 2011 tour.
The CD portion of this set contains 2 discs at over 100 minutes of music. Having Ponty's violin in the group works out like a charm, adding a richer depth to RTF's already colorful and powerful sound. Gambale might not have the Latin licks that Al DiMeola brought to the table, but his traditional jazz style and formidable rock sweep-picking technique adds the right amount of class and punch to these classic songs. Corea, Clarke, and White are in top form as always, and the unit as a whole delivers killer versions of songs like "Medieval Overture", "Senor Mouse", the funky "The Shadow of Lo/Sorceress", "After the Cosmic Rain", the classic "The Romantic Warrior", and a mindblowing "Beyond the Seventh Galaxy". They even do Ponty's "Renaissance", Corea's gorgeous "Spain", and a rousing rendition of Clarke's "School Days". Look for plenty of solo spots throughout, including some wild electric & acoustic bass from Clarke, blazing sweep picking from Gambale, Ponty's soaring violin flights, nimble synth & piano explorations from Corea, and White sizzling drum fills. These guys are most certainly virtuosos! And if you like some of the more acoustic flavors of the group, you get that as well.
Normally I'd give something like this a perfect score, but I'm going to knock it down a half a point due to 2 reasons. One, the DVD contains only 2 songs from the live performances, which is a huge disappointment. My guess is they will be releasing a full DVD & Blu-ray at some point, but with plenty of space to fill up on the bonus DVD here they could have included the full set. You do get a fun documentary where the musicians talk about the history of the band and current run. Corea, Clarke, and White are hilarious and a blast to listen to. Two, while it was neat to hear RTF playing some solo cuts from Corea, Ponty, and Clarke, I would have much rather have heard them do more classic RTF material. Perhaps if this line-up sticks together we can hear additional classic material on future tours, and hopefully some new music too.
All in all though, this is a fantastic live release from one of the all time great fusion acts. Wonderful sound on the CD portion, and the audio & video on the DVD is superb. Throw in a great fold out digipack with thick booklet loaded with info & photos, and you have another classy release from the folks at Eagle Rock.
1. Medieval Overture
2. Señor Mouse
3. The Shadow of Lo / Sorceress
1. After the Cosmic Rain
2. The Romantic Warrior
4. School Days
5. Beyond the Seventh Galaxy
1. Inside the Music (documentary)
2. After the Cosmic Rain (performance)
3. The Romantic Warrior (performance)
4. The Story of Return to Forever (sneak peek movie trailer)