Return to Forever goes back in time at PNC Pavilion
By Khalid Moss
Jazz is a language through which musicians communicate ideas, images and emotions to each other and to listeners. And, like language, jazz has its own set of clichés, turns of phrase and famous quotations. Pianist Chick Corea knows them all.
In an era of heartfelt eulogies and sentimental send-offs for jazz and its musicians, Corea has worked tirelessly to keep the music going in the right direction. His explosive, fusion band, Return To Forever (RTF), has been re-ignited and will shake the foundations of Cincinnati’s PNC Pavilion at Riverbend Music Center Thursday, August 18 at 8 p.m.
Return To Forever features pianist Corea, bassist Stanley Clarke, drummer Lenny White, guitarist Frank Gamble and violinist Jean-Luc Ponty. The band is in the midst of a busy, 70-date world tour that has it playing at venues throughout the U.S., Europe, Japan and South America.
After almost 50 years in the business, Corea has managed to put his singular stamp on just about every genre of music. Beginning in his early 20s, with flautist Herbie Mann, he eventually recorded his debut album Tones for Joan’s Bones featuring Woody Shaw on trumpet and Joe Farrell on the saxophone.
“Around 1964 while working with Herbie Mann, I got a break,” Corea said from a Manhattan hotel. “Herbie had just got the funding to do a label for Atlantic. So he was getting his musician friends ready to do albums. He asked me to record. He said ‘I’d like you to do some Latino kind of stuff with congas.’ I told him I’d like to do that at some point but right now I want to do what I’m working on … Finally Herbie said ‘Do what you want. Do your music.’ The result was my first solo album, Tones for Joan’s Bones.
In 1967, saxophonist Stan Getz hired Corea and the result was the exquisite album Gentle Rain.
“That was the band I was supposed to be working with, Roy Haynes and Steve Swallow,” Corea recalled. “But there was a little mix-up with what Stan wanted at that time. We recorded that album with Roy and Steve, but Stan didn’t think it came out right so we went back in with Ron Carter and Grady Tate. That was around 1967. After that, I joined Miles Davis’ band.”
In 1972, Corea introduced the first version of Return to Forever with the album Light as a Feather. At that time the band included Clarke, percussionist Airto Moriera and vocalist Flora Purim. This fusion of jazz, Latin and rock, was the result of a conscious effort on Corea’s part to communicate with a larger audience. It also marked Corea’s historic pairing with bassist Clarke.
“I met Stanley in 1970,” Corea said. “I played a gig for a week in Philadelphia (Clarke’s hometown). I did a week at a club called the Blue something or other with Joe Henderson’s Sextet. Stanley and I became friends and wanted to play music some more so we put RTF together.”
Corea said his musical friendship with Clarke runs deep.
“Stanley is more than a player,” he said. “He is a giant artist. He’s a communicator, he’s a composer, he’s a visionary on his instrument and he’s a great guy to work with. He’s special. There’s a rapport that we have that I really love.”
The drummer is RTF veteran Lenny White.
“Lenny is the guy, for me, who brought together styles of music but retained that jazz groove and that openness of rhythm like my hero jazz drummers Max Roach and Philly Joe Jones. Lenny retains that nice, loose swing that I like even while we’re playing music that’s rocking or funking out.”
This is the fourth version of RTF, features the electric violin stylings of Jean-Luc Ponty.
“Jean-Luc is one of the grand masters of that period,” Corea said. “I always remember the music he made with Jon McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.”
Corea, Clark and White’s double album Forever recorded during their 2009 RTF Unplugged Tour is available in record shops now.
At the age of 70, Corea is at the peak of his powers with a dizzying number of projects on the horizon. So why does RTF keep popping up again and again?
“That’s like asking me why do I keep bringing back whatever I do,” Corea said. “It’s just associations; musical associations. You want to put something together and do it. We call it RTF because there is kind of a repertoire there and a history of playing together. It’s also a basic association that I have with Stanley who has been with me through all the versions of RTF.”
Chick Corea and Return to Forever IV with Zappa Plays Zappa are playing at the PNC Pavilion at Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati on Thursday, August 18 at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $45 and are available at www.ticketmaster.com. For more information, visit www.return2forever.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Khalid Moss at KhalidMoss@DaytonCityPaper.com