What was it drew me to pick up the blue on blue album with a banking seabird, wingtip to water, blurring the sea to azure glass? Was it the sense of movement as the bird fused air and liquid with breathtaking confidence and grace? Perhaps the sea itself; pale like an ice floe, smooth as a blue heaven milkshake. Or the shadow-hint of land, prison domain of those who cannot dive or soar, land bound and plodding, condemned to gaze out at the endless restless sea and imagine, yearning, for the freedom of flight, of weightless escape.
The typeface—clean, clear, modestly lower-case—reads simply chick corea . return to forever.
The label, ECM, was not one I was familiar with. Was it an acronym? Excellent Contemporary Music, perhaps? There were quite a few LPs on the same label in the jazz section at Euphoria Records that winter afternoon. All with striking cover photography and simple, elegant designs. ECM: Exquisite Cover Metonymy?*
I recall the place and the time of the scene—I know that this was my first tentative excursion out of the world of modern jazz in terms of actually buying an album—but I do not recall the exact year. Probably 1975; a time of much lone wolf browsing of Melbourne’s record shops while pretending there was nowhere else I needed to be (such as Optometry lectures).
Not that Chick Corea was an entirely new name. His solo piano records from 1972, imaginatively titled Piano Improvisations Vol.1 and Vol.2 were common visitors to the turntables of the listening room at uni where I spent many of my on-campus hours.
So I bought this new, intriguing record in defiance of my limited means, despite the lyrics printed on the back cover, harbouring fears of disappointment… took it home… and was transported into a new world.
Although it is not everyone’s cup of electrified tea, I do love the sound of the Fender Rhodes piano. Whether rasped and deformed like Chick did with Miles Davis in the late 60s or the chiming sustain heard here, it is an instrument that comes dusted in fairy magic, always with one foot in a different world.
From the simple bell-like invocation of the repeated major fifth opening the title track, you know this is a different kind of jazz. Like a bobbing firefly leading through a fantastic forest, the notes are joined by the pure vocalising of Flora Purim, a faerie calling-on. Soon the rhythm kicks in, latin-tinged, somewhere between floating and strutting; that’s Airto Moreira. Flute dances in the air, complementing the electric piano’s trebley swirls. Later Joe Farrell contributes soprano sax as well, equally superbly. ‘Return to forever’ is like a suite; multiple sections weave together with moebius-magic, pulsing, darting, banking. The voice changes too, interspersing calls that can be harsh and arresting, though never so foreground as to disturb unduly. Several riffs emerge, as catchy and captivating as anything produced by a rock maestro, but they never dominate. Underneath, Stanley Clarke’s bass playing is extraordinarily limber and energetic; a good part of his reputation for virtuosity is established here. By the time of the gentle el piano coda, you are in the spell of Chick Corea’s new band. That the group took the name of the album is truly fitting.
‘Crystal silence’ is more gossamer; sonically filmy and musically lush. Farrell’s sax states the melody with quiet assurance. If the cover photo was taken at dawn, this is the soundtrack to that crystal silence. So entranced by this piece was I, that a few years later when I dabbled in photography as part of my second attempt at study, I sought my own seabird images, though none of those self-developed black and white prints came close to their inspiration.
The first side concludes with a song, ‘What game shall we play today’, sounding rather like an attempt at a single. But it was clearly a musical idea Chick had been playing with for a while; an earlier ‘draft’ appears on Piano Improvisations Vol.1. Unfortunately the lyric shows the immediate impact of Corea joining the cult of Scientology; greeting card sentiments wrapped in a melody almost too sweet for grown-up consumption.
There’s a way you can find it
It’s within you can’t you see
Find the truth – it’s not impossible
What game shall we play today?
Still, it’s the only questionable ingredient in a wonderfully consistent and inventive mix, so mustn’t carp.
‘Sometime ago – La Fiesta’ occupies the whole of the second side of the album. After a leisurely introduction imbued with a sense of unhurried reminisce (and featuring lovely work from Clarke on bass), the flute of Joe Farrell glides in like a silver songbird. Eventually, with a tinge of latin rhythms, the whole ensemble slowly wakes up. Tune and song arrive (or rather, return, for this air also appeared on Piano Improvisations Vol.1) and Flora delivers the sweet, wistful lyric with languid beauty. Several sections unfold, some as energetic as a street festival in Barcelona, others as busy as an aviary at dawn. Through the various moods, an energy of connection and exaltation flows, as if the party is infused with natural vitality and celebration. Yet always, inevitably, the tinge of melancholy that accompanies Corea’s electric piano somehow shadows the kinetic dance with something reflective.
chick corea . return to forever remains an album close to my heart. It retains the capacity to take me high on melodic wings; I cannot imagine feeling other than uplifted as the fiesta comes to a close and night, tired but satisfied, gives way to dawn’s rebirth. Return to forever.
Chick Corea — Return To Forever — ECM 1022 ST West Germany, 1972
The LP has been re-released on vinyl quite recently and there are several CD re-issues
* The first guess was closer. ECM = Editions of Contemporary Music