The Fabulous Fox Theater in St. Louis was the venue for the triumphant return of Return To Forever on Thursday night!!! Chick Corea on keyboards, Stanley Clarke on bass, Frank Gambale on guitars, Jean-Luc Ponty on violin and Lenny White on drums. The star studded line up opened the show with a “group-walk” to the front of the stage and the crowd went WILD!! Then as the musical geniuses took their places, the TOWERING Stanley Clarke began with somewhat of a comical start by standing next to French violist Ponty, (who is actually much shorter) – so it made for a somewhat comical moment with the crowds. .
The musicians IGNITED the night of fusion jazz with a jam that got everyone gazing at them in SHEER AMAZMENT!! Ponty’s violin serenaded the crowd with a soulful dancing message. Ponty’s bowing technique is so amazing to watch as he bounces the bow so fast it appears as if he were trying to saw the whole violin in half! It was just that electric! Plus, he dances a little to his own playing, as if to say, “Yes, I know“I’m Jammin!!”
To the far left was band leader, Chick Corea, whose technique on the keyboards is still as creative and avant-garde as it was in the 70’s. His crossing and bouncing hands created legato lines that jumped the octaves like a gymnast on the un-even parallel bars! And to see him try to play his way out of his prison of keyboards in which he has surrounded himself – is in itself an amazing sight to see!
During band-member introductions, Corea referred to Stanley Clark as “UNIMAGINABLE” and is everyone’s ATHLETE OF THE BASS GUITAR with his jammin’ tones that just FORCE everyone to rock to the beat!!
Clarke proved that he is THE BASS VIRTUOSO of all time with legato lines that even centipedes can’t keep up with! Plus, he mixed in that tried-and-true poppin’ and thumpin’ that just machine-guns the funk right at you. Make no mistake, though; Clarke is truly a jazzman as he demonstrated that the double-bass (the stand-up bass, as some call it) is a jazz instrument as well as a drum. Those long, lightning-fast fingers allow him to reach even deeper levels of bass. And as if that weren’t enough he pushes the double-bass into percussion instrument status with a drumming technique on the body, strings and upper neck NEVER seen from anybody else with the perfection of time that Clarke has. You could just see people’s JAWS drop wide open when he whipped this out on them!!
Those fans who came ready to bemoan the absence of guitarist Al di Meola STILL got an EXTRA-SPECIAL treat with the addition of the sweep-picker from Australia – Frank Gambale!! He, promoted this speed-picking style throughout the 80’s and 90’s and put it on full display during the dynamic show. At the climax of his playing, he sounded as if he were rapid-firing lasers at the crowd. Donning a BLACK FEDORA, Gambale brought the ROCK that is the funk of FUSION JAZZ!!
Facing Chic Corea from the far right of the stage was Lenny White, the drummer who has been there from the beginning (Corea BOLDLY referred to White as, “My long-time partner in Return-To-Forever CRIME”! White did what he does best, held down that groove as if his life depended on it and ushered in the MANY and VARIOUS changes with those sticks just a-bouncing and pounding away!! His white drum set made him seem as though he were playing in the clouds.
Among the songs were the adventurous “Medieval Overture”, the first song on the date “Romantic Warrior,” and Ponty’s pensive “Renaissance”, from his “Aurora” album, which was QUITE a welcomed and missed treat.
In a band break, Ponty said, “I’ve been friends with Chic throughout the years, but to tour with him for the first time has been AMAZING!”
Then Ponty, introduced the next song with a tease, “This next song is one everybody knows…I’m sure you’ll recognize it!” The band broke out with “SPAIN!!” Of course, whenever Corea is on stage, you’re “gonna” get “Spain!” Then, they bowed, and the audience was already yearning for more! With the expected, “OK,-one-more” look on their faces, White started the beat and Clarke thumped out his bass intro to his gem of a jam, “School Days!” And, the crowd just LOST IT!! This show was full of life, musical bliss and one to remember!