This two-disc set chronicles the recorded work of the first two editions of Return to Forever. The music is taken from four albums recorded from October, 1972 through January, 1975 for Polydor records. The set also includes live versions of four tunes that were recorded while being broadcast on the radio.
Return to Forever is often mentioned (along with Weather Report and the Mahavishnu Orchestra) as one of the most important groups in the fusion movement of the early to mid- seventies, and rightfully so. While the recording quality is not particularly good by today's standards and the electric instruments sound hard-edged and brash, the innovation and creativity of much of the music can still be appreciated today, and it stands the test of time pretty well.
The set begins with three cuts from the Light as a Feather album by the first incarnation of the band (Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Joe Farrell, Airto Moreira, and Flora Purim): "500 Miles High," "Captain Marvel," and "Light as a Feather." Although Corea plays Fender Rhodes, this group is still primarily acoustic, with a definite Brazilian influence courtesy of Airto and Flora. More songs have entered the jazz "standard" songbook from this album than any other that Corea has done, for good reason: the compositions and performances are exquisite.
Next, we get three of the live radio cuts. The band underwent a major personnel makeover (only Corea and Clarke remained) and veered sharply in the direction of rock. I was surprised to learn that Steve Gadd was part of RTF for a brief time, as he performs on these cuts along with percussionist Mingo Lewis. Guitarist Bill Connor replaced reed master Joe Farrell as the other solo voice besides Corea. Despite the musical talent present, these are probably the roughest of the cuts on the album.
Then Gadd and Lewis left, and drummer Lenny White joined the band. Disc one concludes with three cuts from the Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy album with this roster.
Disc two contains the highlights from the albums Where Have I Known You Before and No Mystery. Connor was replaced by a young Al Di Meola, fresh from Berklee School of music. Corea added synthesizers (still monophonic at that time) to his arsenal, and the band widened it's stylistic range from searing funk-rock to a much wider palette of musical textures. Disc two also contains a live radio version of "The Shadow of Lo," which is more satisfying than the live cuts on disc one.
My favorites are the tunes at the beginning (from Light as a Feather ) and the end (from No Mystery ), plus "The Shadow of Lo." But it all serves to document an important band and an important period in music. If you already own these four RTF albums on CD, it probably isn't worth buying this set just for the live cuts. Otherwise, I highly recommend this set for all fans of jazz-rock fusion.