Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Return To Forever - 1973 [2016] "Light As A Feather"

Light as a Feather is the second studio album by jazz fusion band Return to Forever led by pianist Chick Corea.

Always tied to a confusing time line, the first released recording from the original configuration of Return to Forever was actually their second session. An initial studio date from the ECM label done in February of 1972 wasn't issued until after the band had changed in 1975.

The Polydor/Verve recording from October of 1972 is indeed this 1973 release, featuring the same band with Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Airto Moreira, Joe Farrell, and Flora Purim. There's no need splitting hairs, as both are five-star albums, showcasing many of the keyboardist's long enduring, immediately recognizable, and highly melodic compositions. Farrell's happy flute, Purim's in-the-clouds wordless vocals, the electrifying percussion of Airto, and Clarke's deft and loping electric bass guitar lines are all wrapped in a stew of Brazilian samba and Corea's Fender Rhodes electric piano, certainly setting a tone and the highest bar for the music of peer groups to follow.

"Captain Marvel" -- the seed for the band sans Farrell and Purim that was expanded into a full concept album with Stan Getz -- is here as a steamy fusion samba with Corea dancing on the keys. By now the beautiful "500 Miles High" has become Purim's signature song with Neville Potter's lyrics and Corea's stabbing chords, and unfortunately became a hippie drug anthem. Perhaps Corea's definitive song of all time, and covered ad infinitum by professional and school bands, "Spain" retains the quirky melody, handclapped interlude, up-and-down dynamics, exciting jam section, and variation in time, tempo, and colorations that always command interest despite a running time of near ten minutes. "You're Everything" is a romantic classic that surely has been heard at many weddings, with another lyric by Potter sung in heaven by Purim, while the title track is Purim's lyric in a looser musical framework with Clarke's chart coalescing with Corea and Farrell's pungent flute work. As much as the others have become icons, the extraordinary sound of Farrell on this date should never be trivialized or underestimated. The final track, "Children's Song," was a springboard for several of Corea's full-length album projects, and is heard here for the first time via a trio setting in a slow, birthlike motif.

The expanded version of this recording includes many alternate takes of four of these selections, but also includes "Matrix," which was not on any RTF albums, and there are four versions of "What Game Shall We Play Today?," which was only available on the ECM release. From a historical perspective, this is the most important effort of Corea's career, quite different than his prior previous progressive or improvising efforts, and the pivotal beginning of his career as the most popular contemporary jazz keyboardist in history.

The style of the music remains mostly the same as the first album, though vocals were given a larger role. Corea produced the album for Polydor Records. Stanley Clarke played double bass, though for most of his career he has played bass guitar.

The first song, "You're Everything", was written by Corea. He has said that it's among his favorite of the vocals songs he has written. The song begins with Flora Purim singing slowly. The solo is by Joe Farrell on flute. The second track is Stanley Clarke's first major composition and the only track on the album not written by Corea.

"Captain Marvel" is a fast Latin piece that provided the name for Stan Getz's album released in the same year. Airto Moreira plays percussion and Purim sings without words during the song's main riff.

The B-side begins with a song called "500 Miles High". Corea has stated that the title of the song does not refer to drug experience but to a "spirit flying high". The track is followed by "Children's Song", one of many "Children's Songs" Corea has written. They are all short pieces with minimalistic melody. The percussion plays a tick-tock that resembles a clock.

The album ends with "Spain", which was inspired by, and whose introduction was taken from, Joaquín Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez.

Light as a Feather was Return to Forever’s second album. Because the first record, Return to Forever, wasn’t released in the United States until 1975, many have mistakenly believed Light as a Feather was the band’s debut effort. The first incarnation of the group was a Latin-leaning, mostly acoustic jazz ensemble. The Return to Forever of 1972 was a great band. “Light as a Feather” is purported to be Stanley Clarke’s first major composing effort. The guy didn’t think small. Though much of the tune is an impressive exposition of Corea, Clarke, and Joe Farrell soloing over changes, the melody is gorgeous. It didn’t hurt that one of the most distinctive jazz singers of her day, Flora Purim, was singing or that she wrote the edifying lyrics heard at the beginning and the end. Purim possesses one of the purest voices in jazz. Her lyrics are sung, almost spoken, in time with each syllable of music. It is a wonderful display of artistry. Percussionist Airto, Purim’s husband, was also a large part of the track’s success. “Light as a Feather” knocks you over with a feather from introduction to coda.

It is probably safe to say that when most jazz fusion fans think of Return to Forever they concentrate on the most commercially successful of the group’s line-ups which featured founders Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke and guitarist Al Di Meola along with drummer Lenny White. But there was a whole RTF history before that version of the group was put together. All music is built upon music that came before it. Though Corea played electric piano, the first Return to Forever band performed mostly acoustic Latin jazz. This group also consisted of the wonderful vocalist Flora Purim, tenor saxophone player and flute player Joe Farrell and the amazing percussionist Airto Moreira. Light as a Feather trended more to jazz than rock but the seeds for a burgeoning fusion movement were generously spread. The tunes on the album were more lighthearted and melodious than would be the case after Return to Forever decided to rock out on subsequent albums. Songs like the crowd-pleasing “500 Miles High,” with its sweetly ethereal Purim vocals, and the now standard “Spain” are part of the bedrock of Return to Forever’s jazz fusion foundation. The band would not fully crossover into the rock-based world until they added electric guitarist Bill Connors and then even more so later when Di Meola replaced Connors. But you can hear the roots of transformation in the wonderful melodies and top-notch musicianship found on Light as a Feather.

Light as a Feather won the 1972 Playboy Jazz Album of the year and has been selected by many magazines and polls as one of the greatest jazz albums ever recorded. For many years this album has been listed on The Absolute Sound super disc list and the Stereophile list of "Records to Die For." It is also featured in Tom Moon's 1,000 Albums to Hear Before You Die.

Track listing:
All tracks written by Chick Corea except where noted.

1. "You're Everything" (Corea/Neville Potter) 5:11
2. "Light as a Feather" (Clarke/Purim) 10:57
3. "Captain Marvel" 4:53
4. "500 Miles High" (Corea/Potter) 9:07
5. "Children's Song" 2:47
6. "Spain" (Corea/Joaquín Rodrigo) 9:51


Chick Corea – electric piano
Stanley Clarke – double bass
Joe Farrell – tenor saxophone, flute
Airto Moreira – drums
Flora Purim – vocals, percussion