TAKING FLIGHT

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.

Chick Corea - Return to Forever

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.

Chick Corea Piano Improvisations Vol 1 & 2

Now located in the VC Library

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.

Return to Forever LP

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

All together

What game shall we play today?

Still, it’s the only questionable ingredient in a wonderfully consistent and inventive mix, so mustn’t carp.

Chick Corea Return to Forever CD

The 1987 ‘digital remix’ is underwhelming in the bass zone, lacking clarity & contrast (like my photograph)

‘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.

Return to Forever 1972 Back cover

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

Seagulls at sunset

*

24 comments

  1. douglasharr · · Reply

    Beautiful imagery, will have to check out the album. Occasionally I used to buy a record just due to the cover – it was so with Corea’s other band Return to Forever and their masterwork Romantic Warrior

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Romantic Warrior is a huge favourite here too. On the list to write about!
      This album is much less jazz-rock-prog than the later one, but superb in its own way.
      Cheers Douglas.

      Like

  2. Just when ‘budget repair’ measures were meant to kick-in, you post this damn fine piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Deepest apologies dearest coz. But you n’er regret a momentary fiscal easing for this one.

      Like

  3. Listening to Crystal Silence as I type… I enjoy this album, having gotten here backwards from Al DiMeola, as I think I’ve said before. I also like the Fender Rhodes sound, but imagine part of the draw is the way it so strongly evokes a certain time and style for me. I’m immediately transported back to my childhood shag-carpeted, striped-wallpaper home with my mustachioed father and halter-topped mom hosting their early thirty-something friends for wine and fondue. This is music to oppose four more years of Nixon by …. wonderful.

    I like your seabird photographs, especially the “multi-gull.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hm. I think I’m glad I don’t get that particular domestic image when I listen (smile). But I do hear what you mean about the Rhodes sound – it does evoke a cool and swingin’ scene. So. Fondue at ours next Saturday?

      Like

  4. Nice piece. In regards, to “Romantic Warrior” I think the feudal fantasy artwork there was bait for prog fans back then–and it certainly worked in my case!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sure you are on the money there. “Romantic Warrior” was certainly the most prog-infused of all the fusion albums at the time, mainly due to Corea’s keyboards of course. And we prog fans are suckers for a good medieval theme!

      Like

  5. Thom Lieb · · Reply

    A true classic. For several years I bought everything ECM released, and this was one of the highlights. Nice piece!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was (and is) a seductive label, that’s for sure, both musically and aesthetically. A good collection of early ECM enhances any collection!

      Like

  6. I love Corea’s music and consider myself very fortunate to have seen him live when he played South Africa … a long time ago!
    I read he is about to embark on another tour for his 75th birthday but sadly SA is not on his itinerary.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ms Connection and I have also been fortunate enough to see Chick twice. Once with the most recent version of RTF (with Jean-Luc Ponty) and last year with Herbie Hancock. Thanks for the ‘heads up’ – he might come here again and I’d certainly check out what sort of band he was bringing.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I need to give Chick Corea a better listen. He’s one I never quite got into, sadly. I was always a bigger fan of Hancock. This album seems a good place to start.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This is a good place to start for ‘accessible’ Chick. One of the changes in attitude that resulted from his joining of L Ron Hubbard’s lot was a decision to ‘reach out’ to people. That is, be more popularist. It produced some great music – I love the first few RTF albums – but his early stuff is still very much of interest to jazz fans. ‘Now he sings… now he sobs’ is a fine album and the recent archival Miles Davis Quintet Live in Europe 1969 shows that ‘rasped and deformed’ approach to electric piano referred to above (and which might well be right up your alley).

      Seeing Chick and Herbie in Melbourne a year ago was an entertaining evening.

      https://vinylconnection.com.au/2015/05/30/an-evening-with-herbie-hancock-and-chick-corea-may-2015/

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ve always been interested in delving into the Return To Forever stuff. Whenever I see anything on the ECM label I get excited. I’ll ignore the whole Scientology thing.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy is an excellent place to start, but they’re all terrific. Yes, avoid any later Chick that specifically references Mr Hubbard or Scientology. Ick.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Thanks for a starting point!

          Like

  8. An entirely new artist to me Bruce and an intriguing write-up. I’m listening to the first bit of it and enjoying, now; thank you. Clever fellows those chaps at ECM – Eccentric Chick Magnets?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, pal. That’s you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha, no you’re thinking of Egocentric Chubby Man records.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. […] Level 42 mainman’s breezy tribute to Return To Forever. Musos behold: he played drums, percussion, bass and all the guitars on this. Taken from the […]

    Like

  10. […] written on Chick Corea’s Return to Forever—my first ECM album and a record that still brings great enjoyment—it’s time to tell you about […]

    Like

  11. […] for reasons of narrative economy, not from certainty. Of course it does not matter. It was either Chick Corea or John Abercrombie—I treasure them […]

    Like

Comments and responses welcome for all posts: present or past. Go on, join in!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: