This may strike some of you jazz heads as funny, but I first encountered Chick Corea through my love of the admittedly more pop leaning sounds of Sergio Mendes. Some mid-1970s Time Magazine review mentioned that the first iteration of Corea's seminal group Return to Forever (the one with Flora Purim, Joe Farrell and Airto Moreira) sounded like Mendes' Brasil '66 riffing on Miles Davis, or something to that effect. I didn't know at the time about Corea's own adventures with Miles, or his long journeyman keyboard work with such disparate artists as Stan Getz and Blue Mitchell. I knew even less about Corea's ties to Scientology, something that is alluded to in various RTF song titles. It was enough for me at the time to think that Corea was going to give me some version of Sergio's magic, and so I went right out and got Light as a Feather, an incredible and classic album that did indeed sound quite a bit like Brasil '66 riffing on Miles Davis tunes. Return to Forever went through several personnel changes through the years, but the classic version that most people remember is the quartet that is offered in this fantastic 2008 concert at the Montreux Jazz Festival: Corea on multi-keyboards, guitar whiz Al DiMeola, legendary bassist Stanley Clarke, and brilliant and dynamic drummer Lenny White.
Return to Forever pioneered the jazz rock fusion genre that Corea helped establish with some of Miles' first forays into electronic-tinged music. If the first, Purim/Moreira, version of RTF was lighter than air, wispy almost at times, this version was certainly more weighted, heavy in both the literal and figurative uses of the term. That doesn't mean that there isn't incredibly prodigious quicksilver playing, because that's something that has always set Corea apart from his peers--his seemingly inerrant capability of spanning the entire keyboard in a nanosecond with rapid fire ideas, something that DiMeola is able to match him in hook, riff and sinker.
There's something positively volcanic to a lot of Corea's compositions--deep, brooding parallel fifths in the bass, with sharply discordant voicings in the right hand. Maybe it's a musical depiction of L. Ron Hubbard's Xenu throwing spirits into Pele, or whatever it is exactly that the founder of Scientology wrote about in his supersecret discourses. The fact is, Corea's writing and playing are incredibly pictorial, bringing a variety of sometimes admittedly abstract imagery to mind. That whole Vulcan ambience is mined admirably in this concert, with a smoky (literally) red backdrop augmenting the Corea compositions which actually mention Vulcan in at least one song title. Corea and troupe make their way through a couple of songs off of Where Have I Known You Before, as well as later albums like Romantic Warrior.
It's fun to see Corea working on "vintage" instruments like a Fender Rhodes and a mini-Moog, while also utilizing the latest technology in a Motif, not to mention his stellar work on a Yamaha grand. The coverage of Corea's fingerwork is amazing here, with incredible close-ups that show his right hand literally flying over the keys in movements almost too fast for the human eye to record. DiMeola seems a little introspective in this outing, but he coaxes some beautiful tones out of both his electric and acoustic guitars, and manages to find some new nooks and crannies in songs he's probably played hundreds if not thousands of times, like No Mystery. Clarke and White provide perfect support and are given their moments to shine. Clarke, strangely one of the more underappreciated bassists around despite his unbelievably diverse recording and performing credits, shows his versatility on everything from his patented slap bass work to some beautifully lyrical arco passages on upright. White is simply amazing, there are no two ways about it--he counts the group in sometimes with what seems like a beat and a half, and then lets loose with one incredible volley after another in the more rock-influenced moments.
I had the great good fortune to see Chick and RTF live in my college days. He is a buddy of my jazz theory teacher, and Chick and group came and played to about 30 kids (what can I say?--some people have no taste) in the cafeteria of the University of Utah. It was a profound moment in my musical education, watching four masters interact with each other so remarkably. That same artistry is on full display all these years later, captured in a beautiful Blu-ray that offers top notch audio to bring you into the center of some of the best jazz-rock fusion music available.
This is a nicely sharp 1.78:1 transfer with an AVC encode. As noted above, the bulk of the concert is bathed in a hazy red light, which gives a certain softness to the presentation, but detail is quite crisp and coverage of the musicians is absolutely fantastic.
Three audio options are available, the best being the DTS HD-MA 5.1 mix, which is practically perfect in every way. Listening to Corea "talk" with his mini-Moog bouncing around the surround channels is a delight, and the crackle and pop of the other instruments is spot on. The DD 5.1 and linear PCM 2.0 mixes are also top notch. This is incredible music recorded incredibly.
A whole slew of extra tunes, most featuring extended solos, are offered here, in an interesting format to boot. The main soloist takes up about 3/4 of the screen, with simultaneous shots of the other musicians on smaller split screens shown as well. If you're wondering where "Spain" is in the main program, look here.
Chick Corea and Return to Forever are simply one of the most seminal groups to emerge from the whole jazz-rock movement which had its nascent beginnings in the late 1960s and then reached full flower in the 1970s. Completely eschewing the cliches which seemed to make up a lot of their successors, RTF offers sterling musicianship with the very intricate and expanisve compositional prowess of Corea to create an unmatched musical experience. This BD recreates it all with pristine quality. Highly recommended.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet