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.
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 Chick 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.
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.