Written by Jim Bille
May 31, 2008 at 07:00 PM
ImageRemember back in the musically starved 70’s when the industry was torturing music lovers with the likes of the Doobie Brothers and DISCO? It was during this time that a few pioneering jazz musicians expanded our musical consciousness with the cutting edge sound of what became known as Jazz-Fusion.  This music incorporated jazz, rock, and even some funk all rolled together to create some of the most progressive jazz ever produced…not only for the 70’s, but for today as well.

The band at the heart of it all was Return to Forever.  A quartet of jazz veterans who had honed their chops early on with jazz icons such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey to name but a few.  Conceived by pianist Chic Corea, Return To Forever would last for a number of years with different musicians in the line-up. The most well known and successful incarnation of the band included Chic Corea on keyboards, Stanley Clarke on Bass, Lenny White on drums and Al Di Meola on guitars.

This is the RTF roster that some fans referred to as the “Beatles of Jazz.”  This is also the line-up that has reunited after a 25-year absence for a world tour and came to the Verizon Wireless Theater Saturday night after kicking it all off in Austin the prior two nights.  Return to Forever has returned.

At one time Houston had a good size jazz following with most of the big time acts coming through Rockefeller’s, but unfortunately, this music scene has pretty much dried up over time since that club closed down years ago.  The fans are still here though, and many of them were at this highly anticipated show.

Without introduction the band walked on stage around 8:00, waived to the crowd and assumed their positions for the evening starting off with a jaw-dropping version of “Hymn of the 7th Galaxy” and “Vulcan Worlds” that left the awe struck audience stupefied and giddy. The rest of the first set included the RTF classics, “Senor Mouse”, “Sorceress”, and “Song to the Pharaoh Kings.”

After a short intermission RTF returned with Al Di Meola seated with his black Ovation acoustic guitar.  Di Meola’s renowned flamenco tinged finger style of playing was highlighted by a stunning unaccompanied solo effort that segued into the RTF signature song “No Mystery”.

Throughout the evening each band member took the microphone and spoke casually and warmly to the attentive audience.  Each took the opportunity to express appreciation to the fans and to each other.  Stanley Clarke spoke fondly of his friends and was especially complimentary of Al Di Meola before he introduced the next song.

Chic Corea’s piano and keyboard mastery was highlighted in “The Romantic Warrior” with an opening solo followed by the band forming the notes of the song around Corea’s meandering composition.  This version of the song ran especially long and served to incorporate solo time for Stanley Clarke as he sat astride his double bass.  Working his fingers as fast and accurately as Di Meola, Clarke’s bass playing went from aggressive string slapping to soft strokes of the bow, effectively wringing emotion from his instrument and the audience.  Lenny White’s beat was unfaltering and grounding.  His drum solo featured in this number was punctuated with the occasional bass interjection from Clarke, which complimented White’s rhythmic expressions and completed the synthesis of the band.

Other RTF gems included at Saturday’s performance were “Duel of the Jester and the Tyrant” and “Beyond the 7th Galaxy.”

Not sure if Return To Forever will ever return to Houston or if they will ever play together again after their tour.  I’m extremely glad I was witness to this event Saturday night just in case they don’t.