Classic Rock Review

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Return To Forever Romantic Warrior (1975)


Along with The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return To Forever were one of the few major jazz-fusion/rock bands to gain popularity, and bring jazz to a wider audience, albeit in a rock context. These fusion bands generally created a more accessible form of jazz: by filtering it through large doses of the aforementioned rock aesthetic.

While this album has received everlasting praise from critics and fans alike, I was quite disappointed with this on the first few listens. The turn-offs at the time? The slickness of it all. While I found the musicianship quite accomplished, I found it to be quite cold, dry, over-manufactured and plastic-sounding, which gave me a feeling of the music coming off as quite soulless.

The synthesizer effects in many of the songs sounded flavourless and insubstantial, and the drum sonics sounded quite dry and plastic as well. As far as synthesizers go, I’ll be the first to disagree with the many who say that they produce little or no emotional substance, but here, this was the first time I was ever compelled to agree with the many detractors.

Most importantly, I was disappointed in this because everything mentioned above that bothered me seemed to be the very things that go against what I assumed are/were the very principles of jazz and/or jazz-fusion; the music needs feeling, it needs soul, it needs fire, it needs purposeful, authentic expression. A highly respected friend and pal of mine — if he reads this review, he will know exactly who he is — doesn’t enjoy this album for the exact reasons listed above, and it’s safe to say that I fully understand why. Only difference between us regarding our opinion of the album? He still doesn’t enjoy the album, while my opinion has changed, and I now enjoy it.

One thing I like to think that I’ve learned is that you shouldn’t always place expectations on what should be, and what shouldn’t. If you place a great deal of expectation on things, you are more than likely setting yourself up for disappointment. Sometimes it’s best to leave your preconceptions and expectations behind, and be prepared for anything.

Now, shouldn’t I be trying to describe the music on here? Yes! That’s right!

Musicians Chick Corea (keyboards), Al DiMeola (guitars), Lenny White (drums) and Stanley Clarke (basses) create some highly enjoyable, utterly infectious music, which is also quite fun to listen to as well. The music still has a certain slickness to it, but this one-time aggravating aspect has dissolved into an indescribable charm, albeit a quirky one.

“Medieval Overture” starts off with some twinkling synthesizer taps, which combine with other synth textures to create an ethereal, spiralling, and seemingly labyrinthine atmosphere. It propels forth an ambience: at once encircling, while penetrating the mind; in both peripheral and primal areas. Lenny White in particular shows off his flamboyant drumming, and you get the sense that Lenny was quite a flamboyant character when listening to this.

The title of this song resembles that of a classic progressive rock track, and while many mention that this offering shares much in common with bands like Yes, ELP and King Crimson — and in some ways, it does — it doesn’t necessarily sound too much like either of those bands to me, nor does it sound much like prog-rock in general.

“Sorceress” is a funkified jam written by drummer Lenny White. It doesn’t mix things up too much in the rhythm for the duration of the track, which is sometimes frustrating. This bothered me on the first few listens, but, now, I’ve come to appreciate the extended grooves. The jazzy piano chords, and their elegant-sounding arpeggios, the multi-dimensional bass lines, and the drumming; particularly in the way the cymbals are used here. Utterly romantic and sensual.

The title track shares a kinship with the previous track; in the sense that the rhythm stays pretty much the same throughout. Mid-tempo and relatively relaxed, the seemingly straightforward rhythm kept by Lenny White on the drums is something of a container for the other musicians to exhibit their respective strengths: Al Di Meola gives us some lightning-fast, yet polished and seemingly effortless soloing, Chick Corea gives us elaborate, yet restrained and atmospheric sprinkles of piano, and Clarke, as usual delivers some impressive bass lines.

“Majestic Dance” is the closest thing to a typical hard rock song on this album – excepting the quirky, virtuosic instrumental passages played in unison. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, since it was written by guitarist Al Di Meola. Features melodic, yet fiery solos, and virtuosic flights between guitars, bass and keys that are very precise and impressive.

“The Magician” is my favourite track on here. This track features elements that resemble prog-rock more closely than any other track on the album. Written by Stanley Clarke, the dynamics and motifs are quite mercurial and chameleonic; even including Renaissance and Baroque elements (which resemble Gentle Giant a bit.) A quirky mixture of impressive virtuosic flights (the bass playing on here impresses me the most), utter bombast, and whimsy: there’s even the sound of an alarm clock going off to close out the song, which is credited under one of Lenny White’s instrumental contributions.

“Duel of The Jester and The Tyrant” may run in a close second to the previous track in resembling the attributes of classic *prog* rock. The first part features chord phrasing which impressed me highly, and the virtuosic bass lines from Clarke are what I soak up the most here. The second half is probably my favourite part of the track: features a main descending line which exhibits galactic, skyscraping bombast which perfectly evokes the image of an arena battle, so to speak. The synthesizer lines in particular, take this image even further, to evoke that of a video game.

Give this one a shot if you have any interest in fusion. Skilled musicianship combines with accessibility, infectiousness and quirkiness. Sounds like a great combination to me.

June 23, 2013 Posted by | Return To Forever Romantic Warrior | | Leave a comment