Return to Forever
The original album by Return to Forever is one of the landmark recordings of early jazz-rock/fusion/electric jazz - call it what you will.
The influence of Miles Davis, with whom Chick Corea had been working, is evident throughout, but the album is more like In a Silent Way than Bitches Brew - on both of which Corea played.
Less abstract and chaotic than Bitches, it is also free of the bombast that marked later recordings by Weather Report, John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Corea's own nascent high-volume jazz supergroup, which gave its name to this album.
The musicians here comprise the first line-up of Return to Forever, the band - Corea on electric piano, bassist Stanley Clarke, vocalist and percussionist Flora Purim, drummer Airto Moreira and flautist/saxophonist Joe Farrell.
By the time the 'classic' Return to Forever line-up - which recorded Where Have I Known You Before, No Mystery and Romantic Warrior - had firmed up, only Corea and Clarke remained.
RTF, as it became known, was a rock group with jazz capabilities. This early version of Return to Forever was more of a Latin-jazz group with the voltage turned up a bit. Throughout, Corea plays a Fender Rhodes piano with an airy, floating sound that works particularly well on The Crystal Silence, one of the most durable of his compositions, and one he revisits particularly often with vibraphonist Gary Burton. There are no synthesisers here to clutter up the sound.
Clarke plays acoustic as well as electric bass, and Farrell, Purim and Moreira all perform acoustically exclusively.
The taste for Latin rhythms and flamencoesque flourishes that has lasted throughout Corea's career is particularly evident on the jaunty What Game Shall We Play Today? and La Fiesta, the latter a Corea composition which most of the same musicians here also recorded with Stan Getz.
The title track is clearly influenced by Joe Zawinul, and has an ethereal, contemplative quality in the quieter solo piano passages.
Clarke and Moreira swing rather than rock, in a markedly Brazilian manner, but with a little extra assertion, pointing the way to the band's future direction.
Clarke sounds confident enough on electric bass, but has not yet found his voice. His acoustic double bass playing however is virtuosic and assured - particularly on Sometime Ago, on which he features prominently. The music does sound dated in some respects. It is often possible to wish that Purim's vocals simply weren't there, and the lyrics are certainly of their time, but it is also easy to argue that as a composer Corea never improved on this album and its follow-up later the same year, Light As a Feather.
The big money came with Lenny White, Al di Meola and the rock version of the band, but for most jazz fans 1972 was Chick Corea and Return to Forever's real vintage year.