‘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

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Josh Haley and Emma Anzai..I mean, SICK PUPPIES LIVE, BABY!!!

Emma and I SICK PUPPIES!!! This is one of the ONLY bands from the late 90’s and beyond that I truly hold dear to my heart. These guys truly GET IT. Honest, deep-feeling music with no apologies and no boundaries and endless energy. Their studio recordings are amazing in themselves, but to see them live would be a completely unforgettable experience. I finally got to see them in concert on Monday. I had to drive to Austin to do it, but it was worth it. Heck, I would have traveled much farther!

The opening acts were pretty darn good, too. Saving Abel was loud and proud and had some pretty mean deep grooves going on.

Dropping Daylight was great. They brought a ton of energy to the stage and really got the crowd warmed up well. The newest song they played, which talks about suburbia and getting out of its madness was my favorite and has a great guitar riff/hook to it. Check it out.

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American Idol Top 12 Does the Beatles

I grew up on The Beatles and love all of their music. Tonight’s show was all Beatles tunes, so I was a happy camper. Here’s the rundown as I saw it:

Syesha Mercado – “Got To Get You Into My Life” Not good at all. Totally went flat and could have been SO good, since she was doing the Earth Wind and Fire version and she’s, well…black. But it was too stiff of a performance.

ChikezieChekezie – Home boy went OFF tonight on “She’s a Woman”! I totally dug his performance and the arrangement, which started kinda bluegrassy at first then rocked out. He would have made James Brown as well as Lennon and McCartney proud. Then Ryan went absolutley nuts onstage until he ran out of breath it was completely odd. He even rubbed his sweaty head and had to wipe his hands constantly. VERY STRANGE!

Ramiele Malubay – sang “In My Life”…very….slowly. Ugh… I have heard this song a million times but NEVER have Iscreamed to myself “THIS SONG JUST WON’T END!!” but tonight, Ramiele made it so. I like her OK and she does have a good voice and horrible hair, but needed a much better arrangement and a lot more charisma.

Jason Castro – sang “If I Fell” and did a pretty good job, but he better watch out. pretty good is not enough. And it’s a bummer because I like this guy and think he could go far.
CarlyCarly Smithson – belted out a huge and awesome version of “Come Together” slightly reminiscent of Aerosmith’s version. She has some serious pipes on her and they served her well. She seems to be really proud of her tattoos on her arm. I wish she would cover them up once or twice, but oh well. Tattoos were meant to be shown off I guess.

David CookDavid Cook – sang a daring version of the haunting “Eleanor Rigby” and I say he nailed it! This was a killer rocking version of the song and I bet his song gets a lot of downloads on iTunes. I’ll be looking out for the MP3 for sure. 😉

Brooke White – sang and played piano on “LetBrooke It Be” and she very wisely stayed put at the piano and let her vocal and the simple arrangement shine. I think it’s a mistake for the contestants to do “diva” stuff for Beatles songs like Syesha did, but Brooke’s performance was perfect and she had her Idol moment tonight for sure. She was moved to tears by the end of it, since it was a dream come true for her.

David Hernandez – slaughtered “When I Saw Her Standing There”. Terrible, terrible terrible. Not even close to good. Opposite of good. Vacuum cleaner sucky.

Amanda Overmeyer – “You Can’t Do That”. Of all the Beatles songs to sing…you can’t do that and expect to get through to next week. But then again, votefortheworst.com is pulling for you, so you just might make it. And am I the only person who thinks she looks and sounds just like Rosanne Barr, give or take a couple hundred pounds?

Michael Johns – sang “Across the Universe”, one of my faves. He kept it simple and I thought he did an OK job. Nothing big happened, so eh. Like Randy says all the time, “it was a’ight, a’ight”.

Kristy Lee Cook – sang “Eight Days A Week” hillbilly style, which was an interesting idea, but it didn’t work. Simon compared her to Dolly Parton…hmm, let’s just leave that that.

Meanwhile, Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell were really getting ugly on live TV with the back and forth jibing.

David Archuleta – HE FORGOT THE WORDS!!! OH MY GOODNESS!! This kid is so talented, then he totally blows it with “We Can Work It Out”. He looked super nervous. He said he knew the Stevie Wonder version of the song…which leads me to ask myself..how did I get this far in life not knowing that Stevie covered this song?

So who takes away top honors tonight? I say the top 4 in order are:

  1. David Cook
  2. Chikezie
  3. Brooke White
  4. Carly Smithson

Who’s going home? If I have my way, David Hernandez. “Slider… (sniff sniff) you stink.”


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Pat Metheny’s Burning BeBop in Houston

Pat Metheny TrioA friend and I went to see Pat Metheny last night at the Verizon Wireless Theater in Houston. It was the first time seeing him in any setting and we were already big fans, but after seeing him with his current trio (amazing drummer Antonio Sanchez and virtuoso bassist Christian McBride), we are now superfans for life. After listening to the burning bebop opener “Day Trip”, I leaned over and told my fellow musician friend “We are nothing.” Words cannot describe the level of musicianship these people have…so the only thing I can do is find a video on youtube and share it. Here you go. Enjoy.

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