Sunday, August 14, 2011

Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White: Forever

Concord Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Forever

Jazz fans already know this: Chick Corea is a living legend, composer, keyboard artist and arranger; Stanley Clarke is one of the finest bassists in jazz; and drummer Lenny White is one of the founders of the fusion genre. All of them are — and have been in the past — members of Corea’s Return to Forever band. This two-CD set celebrates the kick-off of the group's recent world tour.

Disc 1 (recorded live) is identified as a best-of sampler from the 2009 RTF Unplugged world tour. Stylistically, these sessions highlight the artists when they concentrated more on traditional jazz, as opposed to the fusion approach that later dominated their work. "Green Dolphin Street" is the only standard featured here; the rest are originals by Corea and other artists who served time with the band at some point. Most of these iconic melodies have become standards in their own right.

During this period, Corea was using an acoustic piano most of the time and, for me, his command of that "old-fashioned" machine was unmatched by any other artists at the time. I’ve never heard a trio that melded more effectively, or swung more, than these guys did; just listen to "Hackensack" here, to confirm that assessment.

The interplay between Chick and Clarke on the latter’s "La Cancion de Sofia" also is masterful, and one of the most beautiful piano/bass duets ever recorded. Let me amend the "duet" adjective, however: White’s drum support is beyond perfection. He makes everything better without ever intruding on ensemble or solo passages.

Disc 2 was the result of action taken to initiate the reunion tour. Vocalist Chaka Kahn, violist Jean-Luc Ponty and original RTF guitarist Bill Conners joined the trio for a concert at the Hollywood Bowl; all had performed with the band at one time or another. The 10-tune menu from that event contains many of the compositions that made Corea and his various Return to Forever groups famous, including "Captain Marvel" (which originally featured Stan Getz), "Señor Mouse" and "500 Miles High."

This magnificent set was produced by White, with Clarke and Corea taking co-producer credits. You needn't be longtime Corea or Return to Forever fans; either way, this is a must-have album!

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