Monday, March 10, 2008

Return To Forever Reunion Tour Announces 49 North American and European Dates for May-August

The recently reunited jazz-rock band Return To Forever announced the dates today for their first North American and European tour in 30 years: 28 cities in the U.S., 3 in Canada and 16 in Europe (including a July 18th appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival) in 9 weeks. These guys may be a bit grayer, but their legendary energy level looks to be intact as they prepare to pick up where they left off and tour at the same ferocious pace they always kept. The shows will end Aug 7, 2008 in the capital city of jazz, NY, NY, at the 3,200+ seat United Palace Theatre United Palace Theatre , ..., a hall known for catering to the cognoscenti. The tour will begin May 29th at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, TX, which like most of the venues that were announced today, have not yet opened the ticket office. If the ticket prices for the VIP and "really good" seats with backstage passes, etc. at the New York and Portland shows (the only two venues with tickets for sale at this writing) are any indication, you'd better get on the stick and file your tax return so you can qualify for your IRS bonus check. Which is to say, if you are accustomed to the ticket prices for live jazz in nightclubs, you are about to get a rock-and-roll reality adjustment. These four musicians are all unquestioned members of the Jazz Hall of Fame. But more than that, in the world of jazz-rock, fusion, progressive rock, etc., they dwell high atop Mount Olympus with the gods. They are going to play rock venues and in the process make some god-like rock star money, at least by jazz standards.

I won't blink at paying for my ticket, though. This is Return To Forever. This is the Return To Forever lineup that changed the jazz world in 1974, and is going to change it again.

True, times have changed. A whole generation of jazz fans have been born since anyone has seen a band like this. Miles has moved on. There isn't going to be another one of him. There won't be another Tony Williams or Joe Zawinul, either. But life with all its infinite possibilities is still in us today. Miles and Tony and Joe certainly knew that.

Besides the four horsemen of Return To Forever there are a quite a few other gods still around from the pantheon of post-Bitches Brew jazz. There's the inestimable Herbie Hancock (who just won another Grammy) and his Headhunters. With Weather Report there was (and is) the incredible saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter as well as Joe Z. With Mahavishnu Orchestra there was the one and only John McLaughlin and the great Billy Cobham. All are still with us (scores of demi-gods as well). But these are not religious deities, they are musical ones. They are alive.

In Return to Forever there was (and still is, more than ever) Chick Corea, the most innovative jazz composer of his generation, Monk's successor, and the most technically facile and expressive pianist since Bill Evans and Sergei Rachmaninoff. Also Stanley Clarke, the monster of the New Bass, i.e., he could play the traditional upright acoustic bass like a cross between Django Reinhardt and Ron Carter, and picked up where Paul McCartney and Larry Graham (Sly and the Family Stone) had left off, thumping, plucking, strumming, chording, playing the electric bass like no one who had ever played it before. And Lenny White, the loose, muscular, both-hands and both-feet drummer from Queens whose endless creativity and funkiness had early on earned him a recording session with Miles Davis on Bitches Brew (little known fact: he was the first choice to be Journey's drummer, but he turned down the gig to play with Chick). And Al DiMeola, the Berklee wunderkind who successfully filled the big, big shoes of Bill Connors when that master of legato electricity left the band. His soulfulness suffered by comparison (we all missed Bill) but as his mind-blowing speed and precise technique developed beyond anyone's expectations, we learned that not all souls are alike, and that in fact, he was the perfect guitarist for the job.

These are the guys who, along with their fellow gods, popularized jazz in the early 70's at a level Miles had envisioned (and to some extent achieved, in places like the Fillmores East and West and the Hollywood Bowl). Just about the time Miles was deciding to take his 5-year vacation from performing, his proteges began to launch it all to the next level and the level beyond that, filling stadiums with the rocked-out jazz craziness he and the pioneers had started. Along with Hendrix and Clapton, these were the performers that were inspiring other musicians, like a young Gordon Sumner before he had been nicknamed Sting, who once described Chick Corea's virtuosic music with Return To Forever as "scorched earth" -- a curiously combative image, one which sounds exactly like what it is, a very affectionate and admiring, but competitive, fellow musician's comment on the experience of sharing the world stage with a level of musicianship that was like trying to share a corn field with Maj. General William Sherman as he marched from Atlanta to Savannah in 1864, musicianship so exceptional that it could seem to leave little room for anyone else on the battleground... In truth, a little competition never hurt anyone who was good. But Return To Forever was a tough act to follow.

Buy your tickets when they become available, folks. I'll post any tour news as soon as I discover it.

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