When guitarist Al DiMeola left Return to Forever (again) after their 2008 reunion tour, Chick Corea solicited the help of the band's original axeman, Bill Connors, to rejoin the band for another tour. He did. While he rehearsed with Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White, health issues forbade him from returning to the road. Corea then enlisted ...
When guitarist Al DiMeola left Return to Forever (again) after their 2008 reunion tour, Chick Corea solicited the help of the band's original axeman, Bill Connors, to rejoin the band for another tour. He did. While he rehearsed with Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White, health issues forbade him from returning to the road. Corea then enlisted his former Elektric Band guitarist Frank Gambale, as well as guest violinist Jean-Luc Ponty. The 2011 tour, by all fan accounts, blew the doors off the 2008 reunion. Gambale, every bit the technical virtuoso as Di Meola, is the stronger jazz player of the two. And with Ponty's added fireworks, the vintage RTF material took on an entirely new life, as did other pieces performed here. This two-CD/DVD package offers visual as well as audio proof that the fans were correct. While the set opens with a gorgeously played "Medieval Overture" from Romantic Warrior, it then shifts into what is perhaps the most intense version of "Señor Mouse" on record at over 12 minutes. Next up is a medley of White tunes in "The Shadow of Lo/Sorceress," clocking in at nearly 17 minutes While the first part is a largely acoustic piece, it gives way to the band's full slate of jazz chops full-on. Clarke, Gambale, Ponty, and Corea all shine, while White is so ambitious and propulsive, he makes this entire jam sound more like prog rock than fusion. Ponty's 19-plus minute "Renaissance," from 1975's Aurora, is a showcase for his composition. As a soloist, he remains fully committed to the fusion aesthetic and is every bit as technically gifted as he was in the '70s. He's dazzling, as is Clarke, in his swinging pizzicato bass solo. Disc two begins with a burning, free-flowing "After the Cosmic Rain" that heads directly into an extended version of "Romantic Warrior" before shifting gears into a gorgeous medley of composer Joaquín Rodrigo's Concierto Aranjuez paired with Corea's "Spain." Things get massively funky on Clarke's "School Days" before heading off into a straight -- and brief -- "Hymn to the Seventh Galaxy" to close it all out. It's a breathtaking 110 minutes. The included DVD contains a documentary called Return to Forever: Inside the Music, concert performances of "After the Cosmic Rain" and "The Romantic Warrior," and a sneak peek trailer for the forthcoming film, The Story of Return to Forever. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi