Return To Forever – The Complete Columbia Albums
Contributed by guest blogger Douglas Payne
After a prodigious session career in the 1960s, several solo albums that toyed with both the traditional and freer forms of jazz and a mercurial period of experimentation with Miles Davis between 1968 and 1972, pianist and composer Chick Corea crystalized the notion of his first “group” endeavor, to be known as Return to Forever.
Corea recorded his blueprint for the concept with his tremendous Return to Forever album for ECM Records in February 1972. The album collected the talents of reed player Joe Farrell (1937-86), who featured on the pianist’s 1967 Tones For Joan’s Bones (Corea is also heard on Farrell’s first two CTI records, Joe Farrell Quartet and, brilliantly, on Outback), young up and coming electric bassist Stanley Clarke, percussionist and former Miles mate Airto Moreira and Airto’s wife, Flora Purim, on vocals and percussion. and yielded three near standards in Corea’s “Crystal Silence,” “What Game Shall We Play Today” and “La Fiesta.”
The following month, Corea, Clarke and Moreira backed Stan Getz for the saxophonist’s terrific album Captain Marvel, which wasn’t issued until 1975, and then all five of the Return to Forever musicians collected (with others) to wax Airto’s CTI classic Free. Corea, Clarke, Farrell, Moreira and Purim finally reconvened in October 1972 to record Return to Forever’s Polydor debut, Light as a Feather, which includes Corea’s now standard “Spain.”
Airto and Flora left shortly thereafter to form their own group, Fingers, as did Joe Farrell, who formed his own quartet. Guitarist Bill Connors, drummer Steve Gadd and percussionist Mingo Lewis were added to the group, but Gadd’s studio duties prevented him from staying. By the time of the group’s second album, Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy (featuring Corea’s well-known “Señor Mouse”), Corea, Connors and Clarke were joined by drummer and percussionist Lenny White.
Tired of touring and the required adherence to his electric instrument, Bill Connors left the group and was replaced by recent Berklee School of Music alum Al Di Meola. The Corea/Di Meola/Clarke/White configuration then recorded 1974’s Where Have I Known You Before and 1975’s No Mystery for Polydor.
In 1976, Chick Corea took Return to Forever to the mighty Columbia Records label, where the group waxed only three releases in an 18-month period. One of these recordings is the group’s most significant recording and yet another represents one of the group’s best recorded performances. One is an under-appreciated gem that deserves more appreciation.
Under the direction of reissue producer Richard Seidel, Sony has done a masterful job collecting Return to Forever’s three Columbia recordings on this lush six-CD box set called Return to Forever – The Complete Columbia Albums Collection.