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Chick Corea | Return to Forever – [Polygram, 1972]

Chick Corea - Return to Forever

Corea was at his peak with this ’70s release, which brought together his Latin-flavored compositions and writing for singer Flora Purim with his liquid electric piano, Airto’s varied gifts on percussion, and the late great Joe Farrell’s facility on flute and sax.

One of the approaches to jazz that has unfortunately seemed to pass by the boards is what I’ll call extended comp/improv, a blend of formal composition, passages for improvisation and sections that allow for free group interaction. Sonny Rollins and Max Roach were modernists who plowed early ground in this area, and they were followed by, among others, McCoy Tyner, John Handy, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Jack DeJonette, and of course, the master of the form, Charles Mingus. Corea makes a fine contribution to the informal canon with “Sometime Ago/La Fiesta,” a hypnotic 23-minute excursion.

For the extended comp/improv to work, all the musicians have to be headed in the same direction without ever losing the sense that there are many paths toward the same goal. “Sometime Ago/La Fiesta” illustrates the beauty of this ideal. Corea, Farrell, and bassist Stanley Clarke all prove their mettle in long, lyrical passages in which they both play and respond to one another. Farrell is particularly inspired on flute and soprano sax, but Clarke will startle you as well with the sounds he gets from his bass.

The rest of the CD? Fine as well, although you might find Purim’s vocals an acquired taste. For me, a little generally goes a long way, but on this CD, her voice is tightly interwoven into the compositions and is an asset rather than a distraction.

Those who think of Return to Forever as a rock band will find this record a surprise — one way or the other. For me, it’s vastly superior to the fusion records Corea turned out later in the ’70s. —Tyler Smith

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