Saturday, April 28, 2018

Corea, Clarke & White - 2011 "Forever"

Forever is a double CD album of live acoustic recordings recorded in California, Tokyo and Seattle in 2009 by the Return to Forever pianist Chick Corea, bass player Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White and studio rehearsals with guests Jean-Luc Ponty, Bill Connors and Chaka Kahn. It was released on the Concord label I 2011.

In 2012, the album received the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album. The AllMusic review by Thom Jurek states "Disc one is taken directly from concert appearances across the globe. The standards work well – considering how busy Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White can be together as well as solo... The gems are saved for disc two, which consists mainly of rehearsals for the tour recorded at Mad Hatter Studios in San Francisco, complete with off-mike banter... With its looseness, this second disc offers the real dynamic potential for RTF in the future and reveals the depth of near symbiotic communication between the bandmembers". John Fordham in The Guardian noted "Clarke's beautiful tone and dramatic phrasing, White's melodic percussion playing and deft embroidery of catchy grooves, and Corea's fluency and lyrical grace bring a new spark to standards... The electric disc is a lot funkier... and the light touch and sense of enjoyment of the acoustic half mostly survives intact". All About Jazz correspondent John Kelman observed, "Eschewing RTF's relentless testosterone, the trio is as capable of elegance and understatement as it is of unequivocal virtuosity". PopMatters' Will Layman wrote "The trio recordings are masterful in execution but maybe slightly "been there, done that" in repertoire... On the bonus disc, we get more of a mishmash.. The band is loose as can be in this rehearsal, tossing phrases back and forth, the whole enterprise seeming like the dialogue that jazz is always supposed to be".

This double-disc set documents Return to Forever's unplugged tour of 2009. Its 19 tracks consist mainly of rearranged RTF tunes and jazz standards for piano trio, though there are wonderful surprises on disc two. Disc one is taken directly from concert appearances across the globe. The standards work well -- considering how busy Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White can be together as well as solo. "On Green Dolphin Street," "Waltz for Debby," and "Hackensack" all swing, though they do feature moments of RTF's requisite knotty counterpoint. Originals include Clarke's new tune, the beautiful "La Canción de Sophia," as well as "Bud Powell" and "Windows" from two Corea solo recordings, and "Señor Mouse" and "No Mystery," both RTF tunes, round it out. The small complaint is that these three play so stridently and "perfectly" that they sound more like a studio band instead of a quick-thinking live unit. Everything is exceptionally played and recorded. The gems are saved for disc two, which consists mainly of rehearsals for the tour recorded at Mad Hatter Studios in San Francisco, complete with off-mike banter. Corea dons his Rhodes and other keyboards for an excellent version of "Captain Marvel" and a fully fused-out “Señor Mouse,” “Space Circus,” and “After the Rain,” all with original RTF guitarist Bill Connors playing his ass off with his former and future bandmates (Frank Gambale will assume guitar duties on tour). Violinist Jean-Luc Ponty will also join the new band formally in 2012, and he begins in that role here, appearing on "Armando's Rhumba" (he played on the original off Corea's My Spanish Heart LP), his own "Renaissance," a fine rendition of "I Loves You, Porgy" (one of two tunes with Chaka Khan on vocals), "After the Cosmic Rain," and "Space Circus." The other two surprises on disc two are a very soulful duet between Corea (on acoustic piano) and White on John Coltrane's "Crescent" and a stellar acoustic trio version of RTF's standard "500 Miles High," which was recorded at the Monterey Jazz Festival and contains plenty of fire. With its looseness, this second disc offers the real dynamic potential for RTF in the future and reveals the depth of near symbiotic communication between the bandmembers.

As successful as its massive 2008 world tour was—stopping at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, and yielding both a live CD (Returns) and DVD (Returns: Live at Montreux 2008) from Eagle Entertainment the following year—it was patently clear that Return to Forever couldn't continue with guitarist Al Di Meola. It was, however, equally certain that RTF's remaining members—keyboardist Chick Corea, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White—felt great about coming together, nearly forty years after they first met, as they subsequently hit the road, for their first-ever trio tour, in 2009.

The double-disc Forever brings together one CD of material from dates in the US and Japan, and a bonus disc of rehearsals for the trio's 2009 Hollywood Bowl date, joined by original RTF guitarist Bill Connors, violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and vocalist Chaka Khan. At the core of both discs is the vibrant simpatico shared by Corea, Clarke and White, their acoustic set combining well-known standards and some equally iconic Corea material, from his early entry into The Real Book, the swinging "Windows," to the title track to RTF's No Mystery (Polydor, 1975), expanded to nearly a quarter-hour in length. Approaching his 70th birthday later this year, Corea has simply never played better; bolstered by the equally unfettered and exploratory Clarke and White, his staggering solo demonstrates this trio's unfailing empathy in an album highlight of improvisational construction.

Eschewing RTF's relentless testosterone, the trio is as capable of elegance and understatement as it is of unequivocal virtuosity. White's delicate ride cymbal gently propels the opening to Bill Evans' "Waltz for Debby," even as he adopts a stronger backbone during Corea's solo, while, on Clarke's balladic "La Canción de Sofia," the bassist's arco proves every bit as lyrical as his sinewy pizzicato is muscular.

With Connors bowing out of the RTF IV tour early (citing health reasons), Forever's second disc is a glimpse into what might have been. His replacement, Frank Gambale, will no doubt be terrific, but hearing Connors dig into material from his sole RTF outing, Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy (Polydor, 1973)—Clarke's anthemic "After the Cosmic Rain," and Corea's thundering "Señor Mouse" and funkified "Space Circus"—fulfills, at least partially, long-past hopes and dreams of fans who, buying tickets to RTF's 1973/74 tour expecting to hear Connors, were unpleasantly surprised by his teenaged replacement, Di Meola. Decades later, Connors still doesn't possess Di Meola's chops, but he remains the more soulful player, with a grittier tone and substance-over-style approach. The bonus disc also includes trio versions of Latin-era RTF stapes "Captain Marvel" and "500 Miles High," the Spanish-tinged Corea/Clarke/Ponty trio feature, "Armando's Rhumba," from My Spanish Heart (Polydor, 19076), and, with White joining in, the lighter fusion of "Renaissance," from Ponty's Aurora (Atlantic, 1976), combining to provide a compelling precursor of what's certainly to come this summer, when RTF IV hits the North American festival circuit.

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Track listing:
All compositions by Chick Corea except where noted.

Disc one
1. "On Green Dolphin Street" (Bronisław Kaper, Ned Washington) – 8:41
2. "Waltz for Debby" (Bill Evans) – 9:55
3. "Bud Powell" – 7:10
4. "La Canción de Sofia" (Stanley Clarke) – 7:38
5. "Windows" – 8:54
6. "Hackensack" (Thelonious Monk) – 7:30
7. "No Mystery" – 10:55
8. "Señor Mouse" – 12:06

Recorded at Yoshi's, Oakland, on September 16 & 17, 2009 (tracks 1–4, 7 & 8), at The Blue Note Tokyo, Japan on November 28, 2009 (track 5) and at Jazz Alley, Seattle, on December 12, 2009 (track 6)

Disc two
01. "Captain Marvel" – 4:13
02. "Señor Mouse" – 10:06
03. "Crescent" (John Coltrane) – 1:45
04. "Armando's Rhumba" – 5:12
05. "Renaissance" (Jean-Luc Ponty) – 6:29
06. "High Wire: The Aerialist" – 3:41
07. "I Loves You, Porgy" (George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin) – 5:13
08. "After the Cosmic Rain" (Clarke) – 10:38
09. "Space Circus" – 6:06
10. "500 Miles High" – 12:45

Recorded at Mad Hatter Studios, Los Angeles, on September 1, 2009 (tracks 1–9) and at the Monterey Jazz Festival, Monterey, on September 30, 2009 (track 10).

Personnel:

Chick Corea – piano (Disc one and disc two, tracks 3–7 & 10), keyboards (Disc Two, tracks 1, 2, 8 & 9)
Stanley Clarke – double bass (Disc one and disc two, tracks 1, 4–7 & 10), electric bass (Disc Two, tracks 2, 8 & 9)
Lenny White – drums (Disc one and disc two, tracks 1–3 & 5–10)
Bill Connors – guitar (Disc two, tracks 2 & 7–9)
Jean-Luc Ponty – violin (Disc two, tracks 4–5 & 7–9)
Chaka Khan – vocals (Disc two, tracks 6–7)

3 comments:

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