Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

November/December 2011: Randy Brecker

Chick Corea: Return to Forever and Light as a Feather

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If you ever want a quick understanding of what jazz-rock sounds like, then the music of Return to Forever is a good place to start. It was, in its early years, a hugely innovative and influential jazz fusion group.

Return to Forever was the brainchild of Chick Corea, who has built his reputation on never being pigeonholed. Corea had been a part of Miles Davis’s jazz rock exploration in the late 1960s, appearing on Davis’s seminal albums Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way. Fusion or jazz rock was seen at the time as an opportunity for innovative jazz musicians to explore the use of many of the electric instruments used by rock groups, such as Genesis and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and in the process appeal to a larger audience. Corea understood the music but brought to it the considerable jazz knowledge he had acquired playing with a wide range of musicians, including Stan Getz, Mongo Santamaria, Blue Mitchell, and Sarah Vaughan.

There were three versions of Return to Forever who made eight albums that were recorded for three labels. The first version of the band (1972-73) included Corea on electric piano, veteran jazz musician Joe Farrell on sax and flutes, Stanley Clarke on bass, Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira on drums and percussion, and his wife, Flora Purim, on vocals.

Their second release, Light as a Feather [Universal #9266], was recorded for Polydor in October 1972 in London, England, while the group was appearing at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. The album is an explosion of melodies, rhythmic sparkles, and sounds. One of the drawbacks of the fusion movement in jazz was that a good deal of the music was a monotonous groove. On Light as a Feather, melody is king.

“You’re Everything” has a calm, catchy opening, featuring Corea playing solo on the Fender Rhodes electric piano, then it goes into double time with percussion, bass, and flute joining in. Purim’s Brazilian accent brings an icy detachment to the music that is sexy and enticing. The title song, “Light as a Feather,” is a tour de force that highlights Purim, Corea, and Farrell. Farrell’s performance on flute is assured and confident and raises the question why he never became better known. “Captain Marvel,” which Corea wrote for Stan Getz, has a strong samba melody and once again features a breath-busting performance on flute by Farrell.

The album’s greatest moment occurs on the closing track, “Spain.” Of the many songs Corea has composed, this is his best known and has become a regular part of the jazz repertoire. It is a majestic, melodic nine-minute rhapsody.

Light as a Feather has liquid electricity running throughout. A good portion of this energy originates with Corea, whose performance is stunning and provides insight into why he is one of the most celebrated pianists of his generation. He is an in-the-moment improviser whose compositions have a melodic grace and power. His playing shows he has the virtuosity to take his considerable talent in any direction he wants.

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