Return to Forever

Return to Forever was an American jazz-rock supergroup that evolved from a namesake 1972 solo album by bandleader Chick Corea.

Members: Chick Corea (keyboards), Stanley Clarke (bass), Joe Farrell (reeds, 1971-73, 1977), Airto Moreira (percussion, 1971-73), Flora Purim (vocals, 1971-73), Bill Connors (guitar, 1973-74), Steve Gadd (drums, 1973), Mingo Lewis (percussion, 1973), Lenny White (drums, 1973-76, 1983, 2008, 2010-present), Earl Klugh (guitar, 1974), Al Di Meola (guitar, 1974-76, 1983, 2008), Gerry Brown (drums, 1976-78), Gayle Moran (vocals, keyboards, 1977), John Thomas (trumpet, 1977), James Tinsley (trumpet, 1977), Harold Garrett (trombone, 1977), James E. Pugh (trombone, 1977), John Thomas (trumpet, 1977), Ron Moss (trombone, 1977), Frank Gambale (guitar, 2010-present), Jean-Luc Ponty (violin, 2010-present)


First Lineup: Formation and Backgrounds

In February 1972, jazz-keyboardist Chick Corea recorded what would be his fourth release on ECM, Return to Forever. Assembled for these sessions was bassist Stanley Clarke, reedist Joe Farrell, and the Brazilian husband/wife team of percussionist Airto Moreira and vocalist Flora Purim. Corea and Moreira had both backed Miles Davis on the June 1970 concerts that produced Miles Davis at Fillmore.

Corea and Farrell were both veterans of the American jazz scene. The keyboardist had played with everyone from Blue Mitchell and Herbie Mann to Stan Getz and Mongo Santamaria before issuing his debut solo album, Tones for Joan’s Bones, on Vortex in 1968. Return to Forever was Corea’s second group endeavor; he had just cut a pair of 1970/71 concert albums in the avant-jazz trio Circle with bassist Dave Holland and drummer Barry Altschul.

Farrell first apprenticed under Maynard Ferguson and backed Charles Mingus, Jaki Byard, and Thad Jones during the 1960s. Just prior to Return to Forever, Farrell debuted as a solo artist with the 1971 CTI release Outback.

Moreira and Purim were both active on the Brazilian scene during the mid-’60s: he in the samba-jazz combos Sambalanço Trio and (with Purim and composer/multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal) Quarteto Novo. Purim debuted with the 1964 release Flora É M.P.M. on RCA. In 1967, the couple moved to the U.S., where he played on albums by Wayne Shorter, Hubert Laws, Johnny Hammond, Lonnie Smith, and Freddie Hubbard. Both Moreira and Purim backed Pascoal on his 1970 solo debut, Hermeto. By 1972, Moreira had released two solo albums on Buddah: Natural Feelings (1970) and Seeds On the Ground (1971).

Clarke, a relative newcomer, had recently played on albums by Joe Henderson, Bill Evans (Living Time), Pete Yellin, Art Blakey, and Luis Gasca.


1972: Return to Forever and Light as a Feather

Return to Forever was released in September 1972 on ECM. Side one features two Corea instrumentals, “Return to Forever” (12:06) and “Crystal Silence.” The side concludes with the samba jazz-pop number “What Game Shall We Play Today” with lyrics by Neville Potter. Side two consists of the 23-minute Corea/Clarke/Farrell composition “Sometime Ago – La Fiesta.” The album was recorded at A&R Studios, NYC, and produced by label-head Manfred Eicher.

After the sessions for Return to Forever, the band cut a 10-minute alternate take of the title-track for Moreira’s third solo album, Free, released in October 1972. The following month, Corea rerecorded “Crystal Silence” with vibraphonist Gary Burton for their namesake 1973 collaborative album.

Just as Free hit shelves, Return to Forever entered London’s I.B.C. Sound Recording Studios to record a second album. The resulting Light as a Feather was released in January 1973 on Polydor. Side one is bookened by Corea compositions: “You’re Everything” and “Captain Marvel.” Bisecting the two is the 11-minute Clarke/Purim-composed title-track. Side two contains three Corea originals: the nine-minute numbers “500 Miles High” and “Spain,” divided by the shorter “Children’s Song.” Potter penned lyrics for the two side-openers. Corea produced the album and would do so on all subsequent RtF releases.

Between the recording and release dates of Light as a Feather, Clarke cut his first solo album, Children of Forever, at A&R Studios. He’s backed on this release by Corea, drummer Lenny White, guitarist Pat Martino, flautist Art Webb, and vocalists Andy Bey and Dee Dee Bridgewater. White had interacted with Corea on Bitches Brew and, more recently, with Clarke on Luis Gasca’s 1972 release For Those Who Chant.


Second Lineup: Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy

In early 1973, Farrell, Purim, and Moreira left Return to Forever. Farrell cut five albums between 1972 and 1975 on CTI, including the 1974 jazz-rock disc Upon This Rock. Purim and Moreira resumed their solo careers — Flora with the 1973–74 Milestone titles Butterfly Dreams and Stories to Tell; Airto with the 1973 CTI release Fingers.

Corea assembled a new lineup with Clarke, guitarist Bill Connors, and session drummer Steve Gadd. When Gadd refused to tour, Corea enlisted White as his replacement. Connors hailed from jazz-rockers California Earthquake. His arrival transformed Return to Forever into an electric combo akin to the Mahavishnu Orchestra.


1973: Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy

Return to Forever released their third album, Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy, in October 1973 on Polydor. It features five compositions by Corea and one (“After the Cosmic Rain”) by Clarke.

Corea plays harpsichord, gongs, and Yamaha electric organ, gongs on this album on top of acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes electric piano. Clarke, in addition to bass, plays the bell tree, a Chinese metal percussion also used by Santana.

Sessions took place in August 1973 at Record Plant Studios in New York City, where Corea produced the album with in-house soundman Shelly Yakus, who engineered recent albums by Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, Mandrill (Mandrill Is), The Raspberries, and Ursa Major. The assistant engineer, Ed Sprigg, also worked on 1973 albums by Magma (Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh), and the New York Dolls. Another assistant, future star producer Jimmy Iovine (credited here as John Iovine), earned his first studio credit on Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy.

Neville Potter designed the covers to Hymn and Return to Forever’s subsequent two album. North American and Japanese copies have artwork by Don Brautigam that depicts the head of each member on the wings of an eagle (front) and a reverse image with the corresponding names listed on the wings (back). Brautigam also did 1973–74 covers for Herbie Mann, James Brown, Jimmy Ponder, and William Bell. European copies show RTF grouped against a black background, en-framed in a pink logo.

Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy reached No. 7 on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart. Soon after its release, Connors left Return to Forever, which hired teenage guitarist Al Di Meola, a recent member of Barry Miles‘ backing band. Connors recorded quieter music on ECM, starting with the 1975 acoustic release Theme to the Gaurdian.


1974: Where Have I Known You Before

Return to Forever released their fourth album, Where Have I Known You Before, in September 1974 on Polydor. It features compositions by Clarke (“Vulcan Worlds”), White (“The Shadow of Lo”) and Corea, who closes side one with an ode to the prior album (“Beyond the Seventh Galaxy”). His epic “Song to the Pharaoh Kings” (14:21) consumes the bulk of side two, which opens with the group-written “Earth Juice.” Titular interludes — “Where Have I Loved You Before?”, “Where Have I Danced with You Before?” (both side one) and the title-track (side two) — separate each main piece.

Sessions took place in July–August 1974 at Record Plant, where Corea added Hohner clavinet, and synthesizers (ARP Odyssey, Minimoog) to his existing arsenal. Yakus engineered Where Have I Known You Before in succession with albums by John Lennon, Johnny Winter, Lighthouse, and Atmospheres, a jazz-rock project with guitarists John Abercrombie and Oregon‘s Ralph Towner.

Photographer Herb Dreiwitz captured the image on the album cover, which shows a glowing sun against a dark red sky. The image intensity varies according to the image saturation on a given press. On some copies, the sun rays glow bright red amid black sky. On others, the entire cover has a reddish or crimson hue. Herb’s sun reappears (zoomed-in) on the back cover, overlaid with credits and member pics. The design is credited to Petra Kinkele of Kameny Associates, Inc., which also did 1974 covers for Johnny Bristol (Hang On in There Baby) and Sweet Charles.

Where Have I Known You Before reached No. 5 on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart and No. 32 on the Billboard 200. The album gets its name from the five-verse Potter poem printed on the back.

In the five-month gap between RTF’s followup, Clarke issued a self-titled second solo album on Nemperor. Stanley Clarke features Airto, Connors, drummer Tony Williams, and ex-Mahavishnu keyboardist Jan Hammer with string arrangements by Michael Gibbs.


1975: No Mystery

Return to Forever released their fifth album, No Mystery, in February 1975 on Polydor. Side one contains a track apiece by Clarke (“Dayride”), Di Meola (“Flight of the Newborn”), and White (“Sofistifunk”), plus the Clarke–Corea co-write “Jungle Waterfall” and the group-written “Excerpt from the First Movement of Heavy Metal.” Side two consists of epic Corea compositions — “No Mystery” and the two-part “Celebration Suite” — and the short Clarke co-write “Interplay.”

On No Mystery, Corea retains his WHIKYB arsenal (ARP, Fender Rhodes, Hohner, Minimoog) and splits Yamaha parts with Clarke, who took up piano on his second solo album. Corea and White both play marimba.

Corea co-produced No Mystery in January 1975 with Yakus, who engineered the album with Record Plant rookie David Thoener, a soundman on 1975 titles by Aerosmith, Electric Light Orchestra (Face the Music), Janis Ian, J Geils Band, Rick Derringer, and Roy Buchanan.

No Mystery sports a magenta-framed, side-to-side medium group shot overlaid with translucent liquid light: an effect also used on the full-scale back cover. Kinkele designed the Potter-conceived cover under the direction of Bill Levy, who also has visual credits on 1975 Polydor releases by Atlantis, Randy Pie, and Zzebra.

No Mystery reached No. 7 on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart and No. 39 on the Billboard 200. Before they reentered the studio, Di Meola recorded his first solo album in July–August 1975 with select backing by RTF plus Barry Miles, bassist Jaco Pastorius, and percussionist Mingo Lewis. Columbia withheld its release for the time being.

Meanwhile, White debuted as a solo artist with the November 1975 Nemperor release Venusian Summer, an RTF-style jazz-rock set with trade-offs between Di Meola and guitarist Larry Coryell on the epic closing track “Prince of the Sea” (11:37). Clarke issued his third solo album, Journey to Love, in December 1975 with select backing by Jeff Beck, John McLaughlin, keyboardist David Sancious, and Stuff drummer Steve Gadd.


1976: Romantic Warrior

Return to Forever released their sixth album, Romantic Warrior, in March 1976 on Columbia. It contains six tracks with a medium-length composition by each member: Corea (“Medieval Overture”), White (“Sorceress”), Di Meola (“Majestic Dance”), Clarke (“The Magician”). Each side climaxes with a Corea epic: “The Romantic Warrior” (10:52) and “Duel of the Jester and the Tyrant (Parts I and II)” (11:26).

Corea produced Romantic Warrior in February 1976 at Caribou Studio, a Coloradan ranch facility owned by Chicago manager James William Guercio. To his pre-existing arsenal of piano, Fender Rhodes, Clavinet, Yamaha YC45d organ, ARP Odyssey, Minimoog, and marimba, he adds Moog 15 modular and Polymoog. Clark’s instruments are identified as Alembic electric bass (with Instant Flanger), piccolo bass (a high-tuned electric bass), acoustic bass, and bell tree. Di Meola is credited with “soprano guitar” in addition to electric and acoustic guitars. White’s setup now includes timpani and “alarm clock.”

Romantic Warrior was engineered by Venusian Summer soundman Dennis Mackay, who also worked on 1976 albums by Curved Air, Spiders from Mars, Tommy Bolin, and jazz-rock titles by Brand X (Unorthodox Behaviour), Gong (Gazeuse!), Jeff Beck (Wired), Narada Michael Walden (Garden of Love Light), and the super-project Go, a collaboration between Stomu Yamashta, Steve Winwood, and Automatic Man drummer Michael Shrieve with contributions by Di Meola and Klaus Schulze.

The assistant engineer, Caribou’s Tom Likes, also worked on Chicago X and concurrent jazz-rock albums by LA Express and David Sancious & Tone (Transformation (The Speed of Love)). Clarke enlisted Sancious for his fourth solo album: the October 1976 Atlanctic–Nemperor release School Days, a bass-virtuoso showcase with select backing by keyboardist George Duke (an ongoing collaborator) and ex-Mahavishnu drummer Billy Cobham.

Scottish artist Wilson McLean painted the Romantic Warrior cover, which depicts an armored man and horse — possibly inspired by 16th century German silversmith Kunz Lochner — before a lakeside valley with a castle-top hill in the background. McLean, an illustrator for Sports Illustrated, also did seventies covers for Pilot and ex-Mott the Hoople frontman Ian Hunter. The typographer on Romantic Warrior, Gerard Huerta, also has credits on 1975–76 albums by Archie Bell & the Drells, Boston, Dexter Wansel, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Isley Brothers, Sky King, and the Three Degrees. Columbia staff photographer Don Hunstein took the group photo on back, which shows RTF grouped under their mandala nameplate.

Romantic Warrior reached No. 3 on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart, No. 23 on the Billboard R&B Albums chart, and No. 35 on the Billboard 200.


Third Lineup

Romantic Warrior appeared between Corea’s two 1976 solo albums: The Leprechaun (featuring Farrell and Chick’s wife, Gayle Moran) and My Spanish Heart, a Latin-infused double-album with backing by Clarke and three-fifths of the 1974–75 Mahavishnu lineup: Moran, Michael Walden, and violinist Jean-Luc Ponty.

Corea, who dismissed Di Meola and White, retained Clarke for a new version of Return to Forever that featured Farrell, Moran, and School Days drummer Gerry Brown, a onetime sideman of Roland Kirk who cut four albums in the Chris Hinze Combination and backed Jasper van’t Hof, Joachim Kühn, Michal Urbaniak, Miroslav Vitous, Toto Blanke, and Urszula Dudziak. Most recently, he cut three albums with bassist John Lee and replaced Alphonse Mouzon in Eleventh House for their 1976 release Aspects.

Al Di Meola debuted as a solo artist with the October 1976 Columbia release Land of the Midnight Sun, which reached No. 13 on the Billboard Top Jazz Albums chart and codified his stature as a world-class guitar virtuoso. Six months later, he issued Elegant Gypsy, a No. 5 Top Jazz album (No. 58 on the Billboard 200), recorded with Hammer, Lewis, Miles, and White.

Lenny White resumed his solo career with the 1977 Nemperor release Big City and the 1978 followups Streamline and The Adventures of Astral Pirates, both on Elektra. He then formed the soul-funk band Twennynine, which issued three 1979–81 Elektra albums.


1977: Musicmagic

Return to Forever released their seventh album, Musicmagic, in March 1977 on Columbia. Corea wrote the opener (“The Musician”) and co-wrote the two epic side-closers (“Musicmagic,” “The Endless Night”) with Moran, who contributed “Do You Ever.” Clarke composed the remaining two numbers, “Hello Again” and “So Long Mickey Mouse.”

Farrell handles the saxophone and flute solos on Musicmagic, where he’s backed by three Woody Herman brass players — Jim Pugh (tenor trombone), Harold Garrett tenor, bass trombone, baritone horn), John Thomas (trumpet, flugelhorn) — and trumpeter James Tinsley. Moran plays acoustic piano, Hammond B3 organ, and Polymoog.

Sessions took place in January–February 1977 at Caribou Ranch, which Return to Forever occupied just prior to the spring sessions for Chicago XI. The engineer on Musicmagic, Bernie Kirsh, worked on Corea’s recent solo albums and earlier titles by Bloontz, Cactus, and Del Jones’ Positive Vibes. He’s assisted on Musicmagic by Likes and (on “Do You Ever”) Dave Henson and Jeff Sanders, both soundmen on the 1976 Stevie Wonder double-maxi-album Songs In the Key of Life.

Musicmagic sports a cover illustration by Catherine Loeb. It depicts a woman in ballooning garments, dwarfed by her trumpet’s emissions: a cloud of flora (leaves, grass, flowers) and fauna (butterflies, cats, birds). The inner-sleeve has monochrome face shots of each RTF member (and auxiliary player) by photographer Keith Williamson, a recent art director for Joni Mitchell (Hejira, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter) with visual credits on 1977 albums by Caldera (Sky Islands) and Weather Report (Heavy Weather). Loeb did similar artwork (flying flora–fauna) for the 1979 self-titled Columbia release by soul-funksters Splendor.

Musicmagic reached No. 4 on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart and No. 38 on the Billboard 200.


Breakup

Musicmagic was the third lineup’s only album. Corea disbanded Return to Forever after the accompanying tour and resumed his solo career with three 1978 albums: Friends, Secret Agent, and The Mad Hatter. Moran cut one solo album, I Loved You Then … I Love You Now, in 1979 on Warner Bros. She appears on her husbands post-RTF output through his 1982 release Touchstone.

Tinsley joined the jazz-funk quartet Lips, which cut one 1979 album on Nemperor, produced by George Benson. Clarke resumed his solo career with the 1978–79 Nemperor albums Modern Man and I Wanna Play for You. Farrell moved in a funkier direction with his 1978 Warner release Night Dancing. He and Corea play on the 1978 Inner City Records release Soft Space by Jeff Lorber Fusion.


Discography:


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