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Return to Forever Biography


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Birth Place: New York City, USA
Years Active: 1972-1977, 1983, 2008
Genres: Jazz Fusion


Return to Forever is a jazz fusion group founded and led by pianist Chick Corea. Through its existence, the band has cycled through a number of different members, with the only consistent band mate of Corea's being bassist Stanley Clarke. Along with Weather Report and Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever is often cited as one of the core groups of the jazz-fusion movement of the 1970s. Several musicians, including Clarke, Flora Purim, Airto Moreira and Al Di Meola, first came to prominence through their performances on Return to Forever's albums.

After playing on Miles Davis's groundbreaking jazz-fusion albums “In a Silent Way” in 1969 and “Bitches Brew” in 1970, Corea formed an avant-garde jazz band called Circle with Dave Holland, Anthony Braxton and Barry Altschul. However in 1972, after having become a disciple of Scientology, Corea decided that he wanted to better "communicate" with the audience. This essentially translated into his performing a more popularly accessible style of music, since avant-garde jazz enjoyed a relatively small audience.

The first edition of Return to Forever performed primarily Latin-oriented music. This initial band consisted of singer (and occasional percussionist) Flora Purim, her husband Airto Moreira on drums and percussion, Corea's longtime musical co-worker Joe Farrell on saxophone and flute, and the young Stanley Clarke on bass. Within this first line-up in particular, Clarke played acoustic double bass in addition to electric bass. Corea's electric piano formed the basis of this group's sound. Corea was yet to discover synthesizers, his trademark sound in the group's later years. Clarke and Farrell were given ample solo space themselves. While Purim's vocals lent some commercial appeal to the music, many of their compositions were also instrumental and somewhat experimental in nature. The music was composed by Corea with the exception of the title track of the second album which was written by Stanley Clarke.

Their first album, titled simply “Return to Forever,” was recorded for ECM Records in 1972 and was initially released only in Europe. This album featured Corea's now famous compositions “Crystal Silence” and “La Fiesta.” Shortly after, Corea, Moreira, Clarke and Tony Williams formed the band for Stan Getz's 1972 album “Captain Marvel,” which featured Corea's compositions, including some from the first and second Return to Forever albums. Their second album, “Light as a Feather,” was released by Polydor in 1973 and included the song, “Spain,” which also became quite well known.

After the second album, Farrell, Purim and Moreira left the group to form their own band, and guitarist Bill Connors, drummer Steve Gadd and percussionist Mingo Lewis were added. However, Gadd was unwilling to tour with the band and risk his job as an in-demand session drummer. Lenny White, who had played with Corea in Miles Davis's band, replaced Gadd and Lewis on drums and percussion, and the group's third album, 1973’s “Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy,” was then rerecorded.

The nature of the group's music had by now completely changed into jazz-rock, and had evolved into a similar vein as to that the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, and some progressive rock bands were also performing at the time. Their music was still relatively melodic, relying on strong themes, but the traditional jazz element was by this time almost entirely absent and replaced by a more direct, rock oriented approach. Over-driven, distorted guitar had also become prominent in the band's new sound, and Clarke had by then switched almost completely to the electric bass guitar. A replacement on vocals was not hired, and all the songs were now instrumentals. This change did not lead to a decrease in the band's commercial fortunes however, Return to Forever's jazz rock albums instead found their way onto the Billboard pop album charts.

While their second jazz rock album, 1974’s “Where Have I Known You Before,” was similar in style to its immediate predecessor, Corea now played synthesizers in addition to electric keyboards (including piano), and Clarke's playing had evolved considerably as he was now using flange and fuzz-tone effects, and with his now signature style beginning to emerge. After Bill Connors left the band to concentrate on his solo career, the group also hired new guitarists. Although Earl Klugh played guitar for some of the group's live performances, he was soon replaced by the then 19-year-old guitar prodigy Al Di Meola, who had also played on the album recording sessions.

Released in 1975, their following album, “No Mystery,” was recorded with the same line-up as “Where Have I Known You Before,” but the style of music had become more varied. The first side of the record consisted primarily of jazz-funk, while the second side featured Corea's acoustic title track and a long composition with a strong Spanish influence. On this and the following album, each member of the group composed at least one of the tracks. “No Mystery” went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Performance by a Group.

The final album by this longest-lasting classic lineup of the group was 1976’s “Romantic Warrior,” which had by this time left Polydor for Columbia Records. This album would go on to become the best-selling of all Return to Forever's efforts, eventually reaching gold status. “Romantic Warrior” continued their experiments in the realms of jazz-rock and related musical genres, and was lauded by critics for both the technically demanding style of its compositions as well as for its accomplished musicianship.

After the release of “Romantic Warrior” and Return to Forever's subsequent tour in support (as well as having in addition signed a multi-million dollar contract with CBS), Corea shocked Clarke by deciding to change the lineup of the group and to not include either White or Di Meola. The final incarnation of Return to Forever featured a four piece horn section and Corea's wife Gayle singing vocals, but recorded only one studio album, 1977’s “Musicmagic.” After “Musicmagic,” Corea officially disbanded the group. In 1983 this lineup did, in fact, return briefly to the stage, but did not record a new album, rather they recorded only one track that was issued on Corea's “Touchstone” album entitled “Compadres.”

The classic Return to Forever line-up of Corea, Clarke, White, and Di Meola reunited for a tour of the United States that began in the summer of 2008. A special Return to Forever anthology box-set, featuring remixed and digitally remastered tracks from the albums “Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy,” “Where Have I Known You Before,” “No Mystery” and “Romantic Warrior,” was released to coincide with the tour. In February 2011, the group commenced a world tour in Australia. A live album capturing performances from the 2011 tour, “The Mothership Returns (Live in Austin, TX/2011),” was issued in 2012.