Chick Corea

The Leprechaun
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Return to Forever has been setting high standards for jazz rock fusion music since Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke first formed it in 1972. RTF I was a Braziliantinged group, as well it might have been since Chick and Stan shared the spotlight with drummer Airto and vocalist Flora Purim. RTF II, of which the present band is a lineal descendant, was much more in the hard rock mainstream. Corea, who was one of the most distinctive keyboard players on both acoustic and electric piano during the late Sixties, began adding more and more electronic instruments, while Clarke, an acoustic bassist with an elastic sound and phenomenal speed, devoted himself to the bass guitar. Guitarists—first Bill Connors, then Al DiMeola—contributed an edge to the sound, while drummer Lenny White's playing grew more and more stolid and less jazzy.

Lately, though, the group's music has been changing, and for the better. With the apparent complicity of concert audiences, RTF has been devoting more and more of their live performances to acoustic playing, and on these three recent albums from the RTF axis, it is the acoustic playing which stands out.

Romantic Warrior, which is structured around an underlying medieval theme and occasionally succumbs to synthetic harpsichord sounds and other such gimmickry, boasts an all-acoustic title tune. Corea's The Leprechaun mixes acoustic and electric instruments throughout, but most of the keyboard solos are taken on acoustic piano. DiMeola's Land of the Midnight Sun includes a lovely piece of neoclassical lyricism composed by Corea, "Short Tales of the Black Forest," which is also acoustic; otherwise, the album consists of electric music which is admirably played but lacks a certain rawness and definition.

This criticism can be extended to much of the rest of RTF's output. With Corea on his battery of keyboards, Clarke on electric bass, and DiMeola getting his unusually clean electric guitar tone, the band's sound has a synthetic quality that can become numbing. The acoustic music, on the other hand, is more varied in its vocabulary of timbres and more visceral in its effects. It is not at all like acoustic jazz, more like conventional jazz rock—tightly structured, with tricky ensemble parts frequently punctuating solos and lots of preprogrammed tempo and mood changes—flavored with influences from classical music and played on acoustic instruments. Hopefully, RTF will pursue this direction. It represents their most innovative contribution thus far and could be the beginning of a new musical fusion with unusually broad appeal. (RS 216)


ROBERT PALMER




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