Over the past several years there has been a buzz concerning Chick Corea and the potential reunion of Return to Forever. The ensemble featuring guitarist Al Di Meola, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White with the potential buzz generated from an over the top 2008 performance in Canada. The primary rumor would be an incarnation of the group responsible for Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy (Polydor, 1973). While not a betting man by nature I had my doubts....
I recently read an "extended review" concerning The Mothership Returns with two thoughts leaping to mind. The first thought being if a three page review is necessary to examine a release that while certainly ranging anywhere from good to excellent in spots than the writer may be slightly more self absorbed than some of the musicians he seemed to take some issue with. I come from the saxophonist school of JD Allen, say what you need to say - if it takes longer than a few choruses then you trying to convince someone more so than entertain them.
This particular writer seemed to take issue with the more cold if not sometimes sterile approach Al Di Meola brings to the table. A top flight technician to be sure, this same writer sang the praises of Larry Carlton and his a.m. radio cuts from roughly two years ago on the Sounds of Philadelphia recording. As always...taste is subjective. Di Meola was not to be on this recording. Other guests including Jean-Luc Ponty were invited and despite the advancing age of all the participants this is certainly a welcome addition to and Chick Corea or Return to Forever fans library. Frank Gambale was called in to take Di Meola's place and does an more that admirable job in turning RTF into a quintet.
The Mothership Returns' is a two disc set that documents a portion of the 2011 tour and while some of my contemporaries may feels that it outshines the stellar 2008 Di Meola reunion, it is good. Not great. While Di Meola is a master technician he brings a certain level of sonic brilliance to the table that few if any other guitarists can match with his background and prolific talent in various avenues available through world music. Another reason is again, advancing age of all the participants. The Mothership Returns' is more of a nostalgic blast from the past, a friendly and relaxed jam session showing the timeless quality of some of the most brilliant music of our time - just lacking a little intensity.
While Gambale does a magnificent job, to make the unsubstaniated and generalized statement that Di Meola lacks the substantial jazz credentials is subjective at best. This is the problem with jazz today, labels. Di Meola posses the skill and intensity to fit in virtually any sonic ensemble one can think of. Gambale who is a formidable talent has not had the documented solo success that Di Meola can boast...In short, we are comparing apples with oranges. No musical absolutes here, simply shades of gray and the fact one cat was busy and the other cat had the time to play the gig.
For me, Corea's most recent release The Continents far outshines this or any other recent RTF release and while they are good, the passage of time and the erosion of a certain spark has allowed RTF to become an entertaining shadow of what was formerly a glorious pioneer of what real fusion was all about. Age does that.
CD1: Mediaeval Overture; Senor Mouse; Shadow of Lo/Sorceress; Renaissance.
CD2: After the Cosmic Rain; The Romantic Warrior; Spain; School Days; Beyond the Seventh Galaxy.
DVD: Inside the Music (film); After the Cosmic Rain; The Romantic Warrior; The Story of Return to Forever.
Personnel: Chick Corea: keyboards; Frank Gambale: guitars; Jean-Luc Ponty: violin; Stanley Clarke: electric and acoustic basses; Lenny White: drums.