1. On Green Dolphin Street
2. Waltz for Debby
3. Bud Powell
4. La Canci¢n de Sofia
7. No Mystery
8. Se¤or Mouse
1. Captain Marvel
2. Se¤or Mouse
4. Armando's Rhumba
6. High Wire - The Aerialist
7. I Loves You Porgy
8. After the Cosmic Rain
9. Space Circus
10. 500 Miles High
Chick Corea - Piano, keyboards
Stanley Clarke - Electric bass, acoustic bass
Lenny White - Drums
Bill Connors - Guitar (tracks II/2, 7-9)
Jean-Luc Ponty - Violin (tracks II/4, 5, 7-9)
Chaka Khan - Vocals (tracks II/6, 7)
In a previous review of a Chick Corea album, I quoted what Chick said about his group Return to Forever adding a guitarist to the personnel: "One of the reasons we added electric guitar to the line-up...was to use those timbres which were familiar to audiences from the rock area...I think we gained a lot from doing this over the four years or so of this edition of Return to Forever, although perhaps you could argue that in the process we also lost a few things in terms of subtleties and harmonies, or the more intimate side of music that I also always enjoy".
Corea originally named his group Return to Forever because he wanted to move into a more accessible form of jazz: the enduring elements which he felt he was losing when he adopted his previous avant-garde style. Chick's groups have since gone through a variety of line-ups and approaches, most recently espousing a loud, extrovert style which I personally found excessive. Perhaps Chick felt the same way, as he has deliberately slimmed down the group to a trio, mostly playing in an acoustic manner. So you might say that Corea has returned to the "forever" aspects of jazz, which I find very attractive. In the sleeve-note, Chick says "this acoustic sound is what we grew up loving and where our roots are and always have been".
Chick may appear to be playing an electronic keyboard designed to sound like an acoustic piano, but it renders this group close to a conventional piano trio, with subtlety replacing clamour. A good example is his interpretation of Waltz for Debby, which he plays with sensitive delicacy while adding some unusual voicings of his own. Corea has always excelled at playing very melodically, as well as writing tunes with instant appeal. He is well supported by Stanley Clarke and Lenny White. The trio's togetherness is exemplified by the way that one musician will echo the last notes of his predecessor's solo, binding the improvisations together.
Stanley Clarke has a remarkable technique, whether plucking the bass or playing arco. On La Canci¢n de Sofia, he states the tune using the bow and then performs a plucked solo with his fingers speeding over the strings like lightning. Lenny White is equally adept, leaving plenty of space in his drum solos - allowing them to breathe.
The first CD of this double album selects recordings from the trio's 2009 tour. The second disc was recorded in the studio before the tour (except for 500 Miles High from the 2009 Monterey Jazz Festival) with three added guests on some numbers. Bill Connors was the original guitarist with RTF. His solo on Se¤or Mouse is not particularly tuneful, depending too much on repetitious riffs and guitar heroics. Yet it is interesting to compare this version of the tune with the very different one on the first CD. Crescent is very short, starting and ending abruptly, and you may wonder why it is included at all.
It is good to hear Jean-Luc Ponty's violin on five tracks, notably in Armando's Rhumba (which includes some dextrous bass from Stanley Clarke) and Ponty's composition Renaissance, which brings out the best in all four players.
Space Circus returns us to the punchy, electric days of Return to Forever with help from the gutsy Connors and Ponty.
Chaka Khan contributes stimulating vocals to High Wire - The Aerialist and I Loves You Porgy, soaring and scatting energetically on the former; taking daring liberties with the latter. With almost 160 minutes of first-class music, this double CD is well worth having.