Return to Forever: The Anthology


Bob Belden’s extensive liner notes for Return to Forever’s The Anthology depict the chronology of the band in such a way that the evolution of the group in its various incarnations becomes very distinct. In the same way, the music on the two-disc collection delineates how the four-man group distinguished itself from its peers during the halcyon days of jazz-rock fusion.

Even as Return to Forever morphed from the Latin-influenced style of their original incarnation—a formalization of the impromptu alignment conceived to accompany Stan Getz on his Captain Marvel album, depicted here in the amped-up version of “Captain Senor Mouse”—there was no mistaking the quartet with guitarist Bill Connors in tow for Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy. RTF’s forward thrust was all-electric, its pummeling rhythms overwhelming mere traces of melody, at this point with no obvious influences (such as the Indian music that spawned John McLaughlin’s brainchild and RTF’s closest stylistic and commercial competitor, The Mahavishnu Orchestra).

Those influences would begin to emerge with the recruitment of Al Dimeola to replace Connors. The presence of the Berklee School of Music student served to streamline the sound of the group as his flamenco technique added speed and power to the material as well as the performance of such numbers as “The Shadow of Lo,” as well as additional continuity with RTF’s original incarnation. The added weight of Dimeola’s compositional contributions coincide with those of keyboardist/bandleader Chick Corea as the two fully aligned the melody instruments in equal prominence with the rhythm players, revealing a lyricism in Where Have I Known You Before.

By the release of No Mystery, drummer Lenny White and bassist Stanley Clarke both demonstrated ambitious leanings for their originals, comparable to Corea’s: his classical aspirations, as on “Celebration Suite,” were counterbalanced by the rhythm section’s deep roots in funk demonstrated by “Dayride” and “Sophistifunk.” This heady mix thus became a prototype for the fusion genre by the time Return to Forever forged those disparate elements seamlessly on Romantic Warrior; in the final work of the group, released in 1976, each member had his niche which also turned out to be his respective forte. Plagued by variance of sound upon their original release, the detail of this recording, included here in its entirety, becomes readily apparent and uniformly clear and resonant through the dint of state of the art remixing and remastering of The Anthology.

Whether or not a little over two hours of music can adequately prepare a listener, RTF aficionado or otherwise, for one of the concerts on this summer’s reunion tour remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the double cd-set should be enough to compel the musiclover who thrives on sophisticated composing and improvisation to see the band live and revisit this source music afterward.

Related Content

Recent Posts

New to Glide

Keep up-to-date with Glide