Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Return to Forever

I mean, how lucky were we to have grown up in the early 70s? True that Kendrick Lamar won a Pulitzer Prize, and deservedly so, but by 1975, young people experienced a treasure trove, not unlike Ali Baba's; there plain weren't enough hours in a day. Simultaneously there was Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Springsteen, Bowie, Elton, Patti Smith, Eagles, Queen, Fleetwood Mac – each of these artists with among their best LPs. And just when you thought you could finally leave the house and give the solid state a rest, there was fusion on top of it. It had permeated the Dan, Joni Mitchell and JT by that point, but it had the teeth to make it on its own. 

Few LPs come close to Return to Forever's Romantic Warrior. If someone were to ask me about Jazz-Rock Fusion, I would simply hand them this compendium. It is flawless, exuberant, and timelessly delicious, a pharmacopeia of musical styles, enough to please the classical ear as well as the jazz aficionados. To get the most out of it, listen six times; one time through, focusing on each individual musician. The four of them are supremely talented, and each provides creative and virtuoso performances rarely rivaled. After those four listens, listen again to how they weave it all together. By the time you get to the sixth go-round, you're ready to interpret the music through your body. Dance, in other words. It is wondrously embodiable (oddly, a word). Purely magic.

The lineup of Chick Corea, Al Di Meola, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White is impeccable with each adding their own sense of pure jazz, classical, flights of whimsy ("The Sorcerer and the Magician"), and elements of stylistic audacity coupled with a mastery of guitar and bass (especially in the "Duel of the Jester and the Tyrant"), along with the elegiac themes of "Majestic Dance." Alongside Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report, here was a music that hit upon the elements of sophisticated progressive music that I'd learned of and grown up with in Yes and ELP, the medieval quirkiness of Gentle Giant and Tull, the smooth late at night feel of Hejira and Al Jarreau and the musicianship of Crimson. If you've never heard Romantic Warrior, don't wait any longer. 

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