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Corea, Clarke & White: Forever

John Kelman By

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As successful as its massive 2008 world tour was—stopping at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, and yielding both a live CD (Returns) and DVD (Returns: Live at Montreux 2008) from Eagle Entertainment the following year—it was patently clear that Return to Forever couldn't continue with guitarist Al Di Meola. It was, however, equally certain that RTF's remaining members—keyboardist Chick Corea, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White—felt great about coming together, nearly forty years after they first met, as they subsequently hit the road, for their first-ever trio tour, in 2009.

The double-disc Forever brings together one CD of material from dates in the US and Japan, and a bonus disc of rehearsals for the trio's 2009 Hollywood Bowl date, joined by original RTF guitarist Bill Connors, violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and vocalist Chaka Khan. At the core of both discs is the vibrant simpatico shared by Corea, Clarke and White, their acoustic set combining well-known standards and some equally iconic Corea material, from his early entry into The Real Book, the swinging "Windows," to the title track to RTF's No Mystery (Polydor, 1975), expanded to nearly a quarter-hour in length. Approaching his 70th birthday later this year, Corea has simply never played better; bolstered by the equally unfettered and exploratory Clarke and White, his staggering solo demonstrates this trio's unfailing empathy in an album highlight of improvisational construction.

Eschewing RTF's relentless testosterone, the trio is as capable of elegance and understatement as it is of unequivocal virtuosity. White's delicate ride cymbal gently propels the opening to Bill Evans' "Waltz for Debby," even as he adopts a stronger backbone during Corea's solo, while, on Clarke's balladic "La Canción de Sofia," the bassist's arco proves every bit as lyrical as his sinewy pizzicato is muscular.

With Connors bowing out of the RTF IV tour early (citing health reasons), Forever's second disc is a glimpse into what might have been. His replacement, Frank Gambale, will no doubt be terrific, but hearing Connors dig into material from his sole RTF outing, Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy (Polydor, 1973)—Clarke's anthemic "After the Cosmic Rain," and Corea's thundering "Señor Mouse" and funkified "Space Circus"—fulfills, at least partially, long-past hopes and dreams of fans who, buying tickets to RTF's 1973/74 tour expecting to hear Connors, were unpleasantly surprised by his teenaged replacement, Di Meola. Decades later, Connors still doesn't possess Di Meola's chops, but he remains the more soulful player, with a grittier tone and substance-over-style approach. The bonus disc also includes trio versions of Latin-era RTF stapes "Captain Marvel" and "500 Miles High," the Spanish-tinged Corea/Clarke/Ponty trio feature, "Armando's Rhumba," from My Spanish Heart (Polydor, 19076), and, with White joining in, the lighter fusion of "Renaissance," from Ponty's Aurora (Atlantic, 1976), combining to provide a compelling precursor of what's certainly to come this summer, when RTF IV hits the North American festival circuit.

With expectations high for the RTF IV tour, Forever speaks, in the meantime, to the enduring power of a reunited trio that is doing absolutely everything but resting on its considerable laurels.

Track Listing: CD1: On Green Dolphin Street; Waltz for Debby; Bud Powell; La Canción de Sofia; Windows; Hackensack; No Mystery; Señor Mouse. CD2: Captain Marvel; Señor Mouse; Crescent; Armando's Rhumba; Renaissance; High Wire--The Aerialist; I Loves You Porgy; After the Cosmic Rain; Space Circus; 500 Miles High.

Personnel: Chick Corea: piano (CD1, CD2#3-7, CD2#10), keyboards (CD2#1-2, CD2#8-9); Stanley Clarke: acoustic bass (CD1, CD2#1, CD2#4-7, CD2#10), electric bass (CD2#2, CD2#8-9); Lenny White: drums (CD1, CD2#1-3, CDF2#5-10); Bill Connors: guitar (CD2#2, CD2#7-9); Jean-Luc Ponty: violin (CD2#4-5, CD2#7-9); Chaka Khan: vocals (CD2#6-7).

Title: Forever | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Concord Music Group

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