Remixed, re-mastered and digitally sanitized, this 2008 issued two-CD set intimates the crème de la crème track selection of jazz-fusion’s inimitable "Return To Forever" band, spanning four albums: 1973-1976. The anthology has been released on the heels of the band’s realignment and global tour (see RTF website), kicking off on June 24, 2008 in Cleveland, Ohio. Needless to state, RTF looms as one of the handful of prominent fusion outfits that originated shortly after The Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report came to fruition. As keyboardist Chick Corea created the band after his stint with Miles Davis.
Sure, this genre has received some nasty press over the years, but RTF for example, gave compositional fortitude top priority, as the soloing quotient followed suit. Thirty-years onward, these choice excerpts sound just as fresh and invigorating, all enamored by the musicians solid writing and multihued frameworks. It’s partly about memorably melodic theme-building processes, attaining equal ground with complex time signatures and torrid riffing.
The gala commences with the title track of the ensemble’s inaugural 1973 album titled "Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy," featuring Bill Connors’ heavily distorted and howling, legato e-guitar lines. However, Connors subsequently left the band, which opened the door for Al Di Meola’s entrance beginning with the 1974 LP, Where Have I Known You Before." In effect, the program offers a glimpse of how the unit charted its way from Chick Corea’s acoustic-electric piano and Connors’ fuzz-toned jazz-rock guitar licks to many of the ornate and orchestral shaded arrangements heard on subsequent albums. With the keyboardist's multiple layers of synths/keys permutations, the band progressed into a regimented and irrefutably, polished fusion machine. Solos abound throughout many of these works as Corea and Di Meola swap turbo-mode fours while often coalescing into tuneful unison choruses.Jazz musician/historian and producer Bob Beldon pens insightful liners to coincide with the respective band members’ anecdotal text, all presented within the comprehensive booklet. Thirty plus years has elapsed, but RTF’s music sparkles into the new millennium without any real semblance of antiquity. Otherwise, I would be curious to hear how they morph the sounds of yesterday into the realm of newer technology. This and other components should come to fruition during the band’s recently launched tour.