Have you ever been in a relationship with someone who at times rocked your world, and at others grated on your every last nerve? That's more or less how I feel about Return to Forever.
Born in the early '70s — the formative years of the musical style that came to be known as "fusion" — RTF came up alongside acts like Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report and Herbie Hancock's Headhunters. All were forging new territory, in large part inspired by Miles Davis' phenomenal and groundbreaking work of just a couple years earlier, documented on legendary recordings like Bitches Brew and the album that changed my life, Live-Evil.
Interestingly, each of those acts had a direct lineage to those Miles sessions: Hancock, Weather Report's Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter, Mahavishnu Orchestra's John McLaughlin and Billy Cobham and RTF leader Chick Corea and original percussionist Airto Moreira all played on at least some of the Bitches Brew and Live-Evil sessions. The psychedelic rock movement of the late '60s had triggered a tectonic shift in one of the forefathers of cool jazz, a creative volcano exploded, and a slew of fusion acts emerged from the lava flow.
But of all the groups that rose from the primordial electric-Miles ooze, none was more concerned with accessibility and uplift than RTF. Some sources suggest Corea's dedication to Scientology had him striving to reach as wide an audience as possible, and to promote a positive message. Whatever the motivation, the end result was music that emphasized melody, composition and swaggering virtuosity over the spontaneity, dissonance and fury that supplied much of the dark, sensuous magic of those Miles sessions. Today, Bitches Brew and Live-Evil still sound revelatory and haunting, while much of RTF's output sounds dated and hokey.
Of course, the band had many shining moments — I still have a soft spot for the funky "Sorceress" and much of Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy. But RTF's cheesier tracks (the sappy "Hello Again," the disco disaster "Jungle Waterfall," the manic "Dayride," et al.) laid the groundwork for smooth jazz, fuzak, New Age and other musical atrocities.
Still, Corea is one of the greatest living jazz musicians (particularly on an acoustic piano), and his bandmates —violinist Jean Luc Ponty, drummer Lenny White, guitarist Frank Gambale and bassist Stanley Clarke — are all legends on their instruments and have released notable fusion albums of their own. There may be some musical masturbation and a cheesy interlude or two when they play the Schermerhorn, but also some moments so sublime that I forgive the other musical sins. Like I said, it's a complicated relationship (and I'm guessing they think even less of me).
Opening the show will be Zappa Plays Zappa, Dweezil Zappa's homage to the music of his late father, Frank.
Zappa's music is a lot like anchovies — you either love it or hate it. (For the record, I love both.) If you aren't familiar, or could never get past the often-juvenile lyrics, you might be surprised by the beauty and ambition of the work. In Zappa's case, virtuosity was tempered by a crass sense of humor, unhinged imagination and utterly original sensibility. (A friend of mine once described his music as the nonsense melodies a 6-year-old hums or whistles to himself while walking home from school. In a good way.) And Dweezil's band does a helluva job with some of the most challenging compositions in the rock canon.
Furthermore, few artists have been truer to their art and less concerned with pleasing the masses than Frank Zappa. Besides, when are you going to get another chance to hear an ode to peeing dogs ("Don't Eat the Yellow Snow") at the Schermerhorn?
Now I heard it was gonna be at the TN Superspeedway. Honestly the state fairgrounds…
Will be at the State Fairgrounds
"Cory Branan. –Brandon Jazz" - YES
Jack likes hip hop. The guy is a Detroit native, any music about struggle is…