‘Return To Forever’ Sparks Jazz Fusion Revolution in Houston

Return to Forever in Austin, TX, May 29, 2008

Return to Forever are (left to right): Al Di Meola – guitar, Chick Corea – Keyboards/piano, Stanley Clarke – bass, Lenny White – drums. They reunited after being apart for 25 years and are just kicking off their tour. Tonight was their third show, after their first two shows in Austin.

First off, let me state that I was already a huge fan of this band, as well as a huge follower of both Al Di Meola’s and Chick Corea’s works. Therefore I do not pretend to be objective in this review. This concert kicked Houston’s rear, to say the least.

I was very aware of the musicianship displayed, right from the start. Lenny White gave the impression that, although he does not play a “tuned” instrument, you could hear him playing thematically, right along with everyone else. Each group member traded phrases back and forth with the others, and it was almost creepy how they seemed to read each other’s minds while improvising. At one point, Stanley Clarke was doing a solo on the electric bass and walked over to Chick’s Rhodes keyboard and the exchange they had was something I truly wish I had on video or at least on audio. Clarke improvised an amazing melodic pattern that Corea instantly blended into, playing complimenting chords precisely on the rests of Clarke’s passage, as if he somehow knew the improvisation before it was executed. I am obvisouly having trouble writing out what actually happened. Just take it from me, it was absolutely magical, and it is one of the reasons I love music so much.

Lenny White appeared to be on a musical-political campaign this evening. He spoke between songs at one point about how we may notice that there are no singers or dancers on stage, it’s simply musicians, and that instrumental music needs to make a comeback. He even called on us to help start a musical revolution. I was floored to hear that, since I have been waiting for a revolution like this for a very long time. I could go on about how most of today’s music is complete trash, but that’s another post. Lenny’s best quote of the night: “In an era of boy bands…we are a MAN band!” to which the crowd burst into applause.

Let me just say something about Chick Corea. I wish I could attribute his virtuosity to his countless years of playing with so many different musicians on very high levels, but I went back and listened to some of his old stuff, and he was just as good as then as he is today. I mean, this guy, when he’s playing onstage, if you closed your eyes, you would swear that 3 guys were playing different keyboards at the same time. He is a sight to see on stage. He literally made it look like he was sitting comfortably in his keyboard chair and merely raising his arms to keyboard level and relaxing, and his hands were going crazy all on their own! The level of comfort in his playing is truly astounding.

While I am unable to list every song they performed, I can say that I recognized Romantic Warrior. It must have lasted literally about 30 to 40 minutes, featuring each group member as a soloist for an extended period of time…each. Chick gave an amazing solo performance to start the tune out, then Al Di Meola absolutely shredded on his Ovation acoustic guitar, then left the stage while the rest of the soloists had their turns, then returned for the close of the piece. Di Meola manages to pick every last 16th note triplet by some miracle. It’s truly amazing to see this insanely fast picking in person.

Stanley Clarke was next to solo. He did things on the upright bass that most electric bass players will never be able to pull off on their instruments. At one point he was slapping and popping the upright profusely, with harmonics, and it sounded for a moment like Jaco Pastorius’ Okonkole y Trompa, with the 16th note harmonics that sound like frantic bongos, being so percussive.

Then Lenny White had his turn to solo on the drums. At first he played a little of this and that, which was great, but then he started a bebop swing with his left hand on the ride cymbal (sounds like two 16th notes and an eight note pattern as with most fast bebop, “chicka-dah chicka-dah, etc), and his left foot on the hi-hat (he’s a left-handed drummer that keeps his hi-hat on the left side and all other drums situated just like a right handed drummer, with the exception of the ride cymbal moved to the left side).

What then happened was the most amazing thing I have seen on drums, ever. And I have seen many amazing drum solos (including some of my own. HA! 😀 ) While keeping relentlessly steady with his left hand and foot, he played an entirely different drum solo with his right hand and right foot on the bass drum. The right side of his body was completely independent of the left side. The drumming on the right side would change time signatures and even tempo completely, while the left side stayed precisely constant! He even allowed the right side to phase into the timing of the left side, then phase back out again. I can’t begin to explain to you how difficult it is to accomplish this on the drums. My jaw hit the floor and the crowd went wild for White’s performance. (Side note: I have never seen Terry Bozzio play live, but I imagine he may be one of the only other people who could pull something like this off.)

I am truly happy to have seen this band in a relatively intimate setting, compared to the scale of jazz festival s, which are usually held in amphitheaters and I would have to sit on grass. No, the Verizon Wireless here in Houston is grass-free. My friends and I sat about 12 rows back from the stage and to the right, on the Chick Corea side of the stage.

I highly recommmend that you see this tour, because it will most likely not come around again. These guys are very busy musicians with multiple projects each waiting for them, I’m sure. Many of the shows are sold out, so you may have to do the VIP thing just to get in. Best of luck to Chick, Al, Stanley and Lenny. Hopefully this tour will help bridge the gap between generations and begin the music revolution of which Lenny White spoke tonight.

May the syncopated improvised fusion-groove be with you,

Josh Haley

rtf site

A Radio Station With A Shuffle Button

Jack FMCommercial radio and TV and their approaches to marketing are more and more tongue in cheek lately.

On the way home today, listening to 103.7 Jack FM in Houston, they kept playing song after song that I knew and liked. After a while, I realized that they were leaping from decade to decade and genre to genre all over the place:

They went from Motley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood to Gwen Stefani’s Sweet Escape to Rod Stewart’s Hot Legs to Stone Temple Pilots’ Interstate Love Song, all with no hesitation. These are all songs and artists that I happen to like, so apparently there is a market out here for this approach to radio programming!

And their mantra was basically “We play what we want. No requests. No dedications. What we want. Period.” And then a bunch of great music began to play again.

Right before a commercial break I heard (paraphrasing) “It’s commercial time. We get cold, hard cash from advertisers. You get a bunch of great songs in a row. That’s it.” I love the idea that a radio station is taking the approach that its listeners are smart enough to understand how things work in the world of commercial broadcast radio (and tv for that matter.) No pandering. No apologizing. Just playing music from all over the genre map.

The unpredictability of the song programming is like hitting shuffle on my iPod (well, not an actual iPod. I have a Cowon iAudio 5. Much more flexible than an iPod. 😀 ) Now that I think about it, I don’t remember hearing much in the way of a real person on the station, except to break in for a traffic update here and there, so this could be a money-saving feature to simply hit shuffle on the music catalog and have an engineer stay at the station to hang out and make sure that the power doesn’t go out or something.

“Jack FM. We don’t have time for requests. We’re too busy playing what we want!”

“Jack FM. One station. All kinds of music.”

Nice!

I even heard a teaser that had a sound byte from Saga’s On the Loose! Now who the hell plays that on the radio, like, ever? I love Saga! It’s about freakin’ time! These guys rule!

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A Beautiful Day in Houston? Really?

Days like today are hard to come by. Houston’s weather is usually either cloudless but insanely hot and humid or thunderstorms all over the place. I have no idea what the actual temp is today, go look it up, but it just felt good walking outside this morning.

Interesting how traffic wasn’t so bad today. Perhaps a lot of people got “sick” today? Sucks for me, as I actually am a bit sick, but have to work (Downtown) nonetheless.

Enjoy it while it lasts. Tomorrow it could be gray and dreary or hot an humid all over again.

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