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Return to Forever: Back, Bold and Badass

By Published: July 7, 2008

The Return Tour

Thoughts of getting back together to explore the fusion music of RTF rolled around every so often, the musicians say. Now that it's happening, all four are excited.

" We started communicating amongst each other about how we should get together. It took a little while because all the guys had their own position about how we should get back together," says Clarke.

"It was an evolution of conversations that went on through the years," explains Corea. "We'd see each other every now and again, cross paths, call each other on the phone. Most often, the subject of the band would come up—how nice it would be to play together, why don't we get the band together again. The talk went around and around. Al would call me up and say, 'Hey man, I just talked to Stanley and we were talking about the band.' Eventually what would happen is everyone was doing other things, and we never got around to laying it on a schedule until about a year ago. The talk built up and it was like, 'OK, we're going to do it.' And it actually happened. I got responses back from everyone, and it was laid down for 2008.

"It's another ride. It's got a different vibe. There's more nostalgia connected to us now. Audiences know us when we walk out on stage, which is interesting to experience. It's a nightly adventure. We're putting all our sensibilities back together again, using the '70s repertoire as a jumping off point."

"Each show gets better and better," acknowledges Clarke.

Chick Corea/ Return to Forever For DiMeola, playing with RTF hasn't lost any luster from his days as a wide-eyed young man walking into Carnegie Hall.

"It's fun. It's like we're reliving that past dream," he says. "It was very natural to come back to, even after all of these years. And I think we made a wise choice to focus on pieces of music that are not new, that the crowd recognizes. So we make the experience for the fans that much more fun. It's like going to see the Rolling Stones. No one cares about their last 15, 20 records. They want to hear hits from those early records that bring back the memory of that time. That's what we're doing with this. There's some nostalgia."

"It's been great, by the reaction of people. We're getting standing ovations after every tune. It's really impressive," says White. "Anytime you reach people and go back to that, it feels great. To be part of an organization, that's the highest dynamic you can have as a group. It's like you have a great team, a great basketball team that wins. The guys feel good about it because the intention was to get together as a team and go out and win. We're a team and we're winning."

Though there isn't any new written music, Corea stresses that new sounds, new ideas emerge by the nature of bringing four superb improvising musicians to the table.

"Even though some of the compositions have more notes than others, they're basically guidelines to improvisation. Except for one or two tunes. 'Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy' that we play, that's practically all written notes. But most of the other compositions are just jumping off points for improvisation. So it's the solos and the group playing that define the music now. In that sense, I think it's sounding different, to my ears anyway. The sound of the band is big and thick and rich. I like it."

He notes that for himself, his keyboard rig has gotten more complex over time, and he is trying to adapt that to RTF. "When I'm at home with no band around me, it's easy to say, 'I think I'll add another keyboard here' or 'I'll put this other gizmo in' or 'there are some good sounds on my laptop I need to add.' I end up with too much stuff. I'm trying to work it all together into some logical sound."

"There's no limit to what we can do. It's just a matter of finding a time to do it and making it happen," says DiMeola. "Sticking with the plan. We certainly had a plan back then. Then one day we woke up and decided not to. Who knew that it would last—thirty years of not doing it again? You just never know. This could be the last tour or it could continue. We don't know."

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More RTF?

More RTF is a distinct possibility, especially with Corea committed to the idea.

"I think it's everyone's wish to do that [reunite beyond 2008]. It looks to me like that's going to happen. We're thinking maybe we shouldn't wait another thirty years to put it together. That would make me close to 100 years old," Corea says with a laugh. "I think we're going to do some more together," noting that new compositions that the group can explore would very much be a part of those plans.

Chick Corea/ Return to Forever Meanwhile, for the pianist, "I've got several things going on. I've been enjoying several duet collaborations with Gary Burton, Bela Fleck and Bobby McFerrin. There will probably be some more of that, but a new project that I'm getting into next year is a band I put together with John McLaughlin. We're going to write some new music. We'll be playing with Kenny Garrett, Vinnie Colaiuta and Christian McBride. I'm looking forward to that. I'm a great admirer of John. He's a dear old friend, but we've never really got down to making some music together."

For Clarke, his adventures include an upcoming album of titan bass players—himself, Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten, and some tour dates with that group, which will be billing itself as SMV (Stanley, Marcus, Victor).

White has always been active as a producer (as has Clarke). "I'm producing some other records. I did a record with a pretty popular Polish singer, Tatiana Okupnik. We actually opened last year for the Rolling Stones. I went over and played with her, and we opened for the Rolling Stones... I think I'm going to have a record come out next year," he says. "I've also been writing some symphonic music for the past eight years. I had some stuff performed in Russia in 2006 and 2007. I went over with some Russian musicians, [bassist] Eddie Gomez and myself, and performed with a string quartet." He hopes to be able to do more with that music.

"I have been working primarily with my acoustic group, World Synfonia, more often in Europe and Russia," says DiMeola. "That's comprised of two acoustic guitars [Peo Alfonsi, second acoustic guitar] and an amazing accordion player [Fausto Beccalossi] who improvises phenomenally well. We have a really good rapport. And I have a percussionist [Gumbi Ortiz] that has been in all my groups for the last twenty years. These four players are ones I'm putting most of my time into, outside of this [RTF]."

As for fans of RTF, it could be a return to... tomorrow.

Selected Discography

Return to Forever, The Anthology (Concord, 2008)
Chick Corea, The New Crystal Silence (Concord, 2008)
Chick Corea, The Ultimate Adventure: Live in Barcelona (Concord, 2007)
Stanley Clarke, The Toys of Men (Heads Up International, 2007)
Stanley Clarke, Night School: An Evening with Stanley Clarke & Friends (Heads Up DVD, 2007)
Al DiMeola, Flesh on Flesh (Telarc, 2002)
Lenny White, Edge (Hip Hop Essence, 1999)
Al DiMeola, The Infinite Dream (Telarc, 1999)
Stanley Clarke/Al DiMeola/Jean-Luc Ponty, The Rite of Strings (Capitol, 1995) Al DiMeola, New World Sinfonia (Rhino/Wea, 1991)
Chick Corea Elektric Band, Beneath the Mask, (GRP Records, 1991)
Al DiMeola, Kiss My Axe (Mesa/Bluemoon, 1991)
Lenny White, The Adventures of Astral Pirates (Elektrica, 1978)
Al DiMeola, Elegant Gypsy (Sony, 1977)
Lenny White, Venusian Summer (Nemperor, 1977)
Return to Forever, Romantic Warrior (Columbia, 1976)
Stanley Clarke, School Days (Nemperor/Epic, 1976)
Return to Forever, No Mystery (Polydor, 1975)
Stanley Clarke, Stanley Clarke (Epic Europe, 1974)
Return to Forever, Where Have I Known You Before (Polydor, 1974)
Return to Forever, Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy (Polydor, 1973)
Return to Forever, Light as a Feather (Polydor, 1972)
Return to Forever, Return to Forever (ECM, 1972)
Miles Davis, Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1969)
Chick Corea, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (Blue Note, 1968)

Photo Credit
John Fowler

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