Friday, October 31, 2008

The Case of the Missing DVD (Dark Tales of the Black Forest)

Cold gray clouds filled the sky on this wet and stormy night. Jack O' Lanterns perched on the front steps as the smell of melting candle wax and singed pumpkin flesh filled the evening air. Desperate, sugar-crazed children roamed the streets.

There was still no DVD of the Return To Forever reunion tour of 2008.

Earlier in the week I'd received a mysterious message through an intermediary, saying: "Don't hold your breath..."

As I sat at my desk, feet up, nipping at a bottle of 12-yr.-old single malt, I Googled "return to forever 2008 dvd" and confirmed my worst suspicions. Besides some Japanese freak selling a jiggly iPhone bootleg of the July 30th show at the Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami, there was nothing. This was the toughest case I had seen in years. The scariest, too.

There was a knock at the door. "It's open," I said.

In walks this dame in a tweed suit and the longest legs I ever saw. She walks straight over to my desk, pulls a badge from her purse and holds it out for me at eye level. "Scotland Yard," she says.

"Your point?" I asked.

"Everyone who saw Return To Forever perform this summer has been anticipating the release of a DVD."

"Tell me something I didn't know," I say, feeling nervy.

"So where is it? We all saw the cameras from PCS and the stills they published on the RTF website."

"Okay...," I murmured, looking deeply into her azure eyes. "And this interests Scotland Yard because...?"

"We're not sure how high it reaches," she said, lowering her voice to a whisper, drawing me in with her fetching Oxford accent. She looked around the room with a practiced eye, searching, I assumed, for signs of hidden cameras or mics. "We really can't be too cautious. Whoever we're dealing with is slippery. They could be MI5, CIA, FDA, Mossad, FEMA, IBM, PacBell, MicroSoft, BBC, New York Times... Maybe even a presidential candidate... or vice-presidential candidate. We don't want to spook anybody, so to speak, especially on a night like tonight. Whoever it is, he or she is smart enough that they know to be in disguise. And it's just our luck that you Yanks love dressing everyone up like bizarre peasants today. "

"Do you think the Swiss is in on it?"

"The bloody bankers? And don't you mean, do I think the Swiss are in on it?" she asked.

"No, and no... of course not. The Swiss is the music producer,
Claude Nobs. He is the man who has been bringing us the Montreux Jazz Festival since 1967. I'm sure he recorded everything Return To Forever performed there last July with state-of-the-art equipment. Claude is a video technophile, too, and he's been filming or video-taping his jazzers with whatever technology was available since the early 70's. There is no doubt whatsoever that he has mind-blowing digital audio and video files of Messrs. Corea, Clarke, Luke and John... er... Corea, Clarke, White and Di Meola. No doubt at all. But why are we being tossed a bone and offered only a 2-CD live audio collection?" *

"Bloody hell, you're right! It's the official opening of the Christmas buying season. All those Return To Forever fans have been snuggling into their beds with visions of DVD box sets dancing in their wee little 'eads. Bone-rattling bass lines from Stanley, drum solos on concussion-grenade toms and sea-foam snares from Lenny, laser-like gattling gun solos from Al, and metaphysically universe-expanding Fender Rhodes solos from Chick, all accompanied by brilliantly lit and photographed high-definition visuals, taking the fan on a journey to a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind, a rocket ride blasting up the floorboards and right through the soles of your feet in epic 5.1 Surround Sound. There should be a stupendous collector's edition with a couple extra DVDs of commentaries, interviews, discographies, bonus tracks and all kinds of other sugar plums. And as a stocking stuffer, a box set of the remixed and remastered Where Have I Known You Before and No Mystery! Where is it?"

"Exactly! Where is it??!!!"

So we brought in the the best private detective in the world. We had already found a few clues littered through cyberspace like peanut M&Ms and Dots dropped by inattentive trick-or-treaters, but we just couldn't pull them together. Or more precisely, we couldn't scrape them off our shoes. We needed a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Obi-Wan Kenobi, a shape-shifting sleuth who could travel in parallel universes simultaneously, one who would know the difference between a bass clef and a bass boat. We needed a cultural psychic, and, this being an unconscionably senseless crime, we needed a detective who could look into a man's heart. In other words, one who knows if you've been bad or good. Really knows. There was one man for the job. We knew he wouldn't come cheap, especially this time of year. His agency said he had two days available.

"St. Nick," he said, extending his hand.

"Pleasure to meet you," I said, noting his good, firm handshake. "This is Scotland Yard," I continued, introducing my new partner from across the Pond.

"I'm naughty and nice at the same time," she said, taking the old man's hand and making him blush under his beard. "Please remember that on Christmas Eve."

"Hmm-m-m-m, hm-m-m," he said. "I mean, ho ho ho. Well, time's a-wasting. What can I do for you two?"

"It's a bit complicated, Santa... er... can I call you Santa?"

"Of course."

"About this time last year Return To Forever, one of the greatest jazz-rock fusion bands of all time, announced they were going to re-unite for the first time in 25 years and play dates in a bunch of cities in North America and Europe. All of us who have followed this band over the years knew that when they came off the road and the dust settled, they would have material for the most killer live performance DVD of all time. The state of digital audio and video recording has finally arrived at the point now where it is possible to create such a magnificent concert DVD that it would rival the real thing."

"A concert DVD that is as good as a live performance?"

"Okay, maybe that's overstating it a bit. But if done right, such a recording could quite literally blow your socks off. Make the earth move. On a big flat screen with good speakers it would shake the foundation of the universe. And with the incredibly high levels of musicianship these four guys would put on display, this would be the most amazing concert DVD ever. If the Beatles had had this technology, they would have been crowned as four kings and taken over the world."

"They did take over the world," St. Nick interrupted.

"But with the current technology, they'd still be kings. We'd have beautifully-rendered DVDs of the complete Shea Stadium and Tokyo concerts, Hollywood Bowl, you name it. Even the Let It Be film."

"I'm beginning to see your point. So what happened?"

"Nothing. These four Beatles of Jazz-Rock have sort of quietly announced November 17th as the release date of a double CD of live performances from the tour, in Europe. Available only as an import in the U.S. From the cover art it looks to be the work of Claude Nobs. The quality will be awesome and no doubt rock the world...

"But the DVD is nowhere in sight. For months we've been taunted with it. Budapest, Philadelphia, the first show in Austin, the big, crazy audience in Los Angeles, the last show of the tour in New York, fans have heard about all of them on the forum... But there's no DVD. That's why we called you."

"Any suspects?"

"Besides the usual lawyers, guns and money?" Scotland Yard asked. "Because that's how these music deals usually get screwed up."

"Yes, besides those. If you follow the trail it leads to something... someone, pushing the lawyers about the money with whatever kind of guns they think they can load and fire."

"You mean an inside job?"

"It almost always is. Petty criminals can't get near the big cash and the big game. Only the big players are ever in the room when the vault is open."

"Like a personal manager, or an agent?"

"Could be."

"Or one of the guys in the band?"

"You can't get any more inside than that," the jolly old elf said, sadly. "Was anyone in the band acting weird during the tour, or after the tour? Anyone make odd, non sequitur remarks about the future of the band?"

"I can't believe it."

"Believe it, son. There's this rock and roll band called the Rolling Stones. Ever heard of them?"

"Hm-m, yes, the name is familiar..." I smirked. "British, right?"

"Hail Britannia!" said Scotland Yard.

"When they plan a tour, or want to issue a DVD or yet another greatest hits album, it's all business. The rest of the year they go their separate ways and work on their own projects and don't bother each other. Mick boinks babes. Keith dopes his blood. Ron paints pictures. Charlie plays jazz. Any one of them could spoil the whole party by announcing they've had enough crap, and bail, like Bill Wyman did. But they've learned. Why screw up a good thing? When the human race wants a lift, they go out and listen to some music! If they need to file into a stadium 40,000 at a time and stand on their feet for yet another faithful rendition of "Satisfaction", and they want to shower money on you for the effort, why not get together every so often?"

"Hear, hear!" I said

"Bloody hell!" said Scotland Yard.

"In point of fact, in all my seventeen hundred plus years, I've only seen one other reason, besides money, that provides a powerful enough incentive to screw up a good thing."

"And that is...?"

"You'll have to ask Bill Wyman."

"You mean, like wounded pride?"

"Wounded, healed, surgically cosmeticized... whatever. Until a person can regain his dignity and self-worth, the funny thing is that he can feel so powerless that he believes the only way to regain the attention and admiration he deserves is to do something harmful. Thankfully, it's not a permanent state... at least, it doesn't have to be. But these are the coal-in-the-stocking crowd. I have to make a list of them every year. It's the saddest task I have."

Scotland Yard and I looked at each other in silence.

"So, back to my original question," he said. "Any of Fusion's Fab Four sound wounded recently? Or weird?"


"Are you people baseball fans? Do you understand the Free Agent contract-year phenomenon? The guy who's about to leave as he's putting the finishing touches on a good year? Ken Griffey, Jr.? Miguel Tejada? Adrian Beltre? Andruw Jones? Anyone in the band talking like the band needs him more than he needs the band?"

"Here's the evidence, St. Nick," I began. For starters, it isn't Lenny. Going back to the beginning of time, his position has always been that if you can do what Return To Forever is capable of doing for people, your music goes beyond notes and sounds. It can help heal the ills of the world, so it carries a responsibility. When he talks about the 1975 concert at Warnom Rink in Central Park, he practically goes into a mystical reverie and describes the thousands of fans who stormed the barricades to get in. They wanted to see RTF so much that they knocked down the fences to see them, like when the Beatles landed at Idlewild in 1964. The actor Lawrence Fishburn was there that day, and said it was a turning point in his life. Lenny knew then that playing for RTF was a higher calling. He's on record in a interview only a month ago being asked if he'd be up for another RTF tour, and he said: "Just let me know where and when, I'm there ......"

"Yes, you're right," said St. Nick as he scratched his chin under his beard. "He's certainly not our culprit."

"The other three aren't as straightforward. Chick, for example..." I started, hesitating.

"Oh, don't you start, you bloody bastard!" Scotland Yard shouted at me. "We all know about Chick's historical reluctance over the years. But you bloody well know that the reasons have been largely artistic. He went from being Miles' fair-haired boy to leading the ultimate avant-garde super-group in Circle, then scorched the landscape with RTF. But instead of scuffling a bit after RTF dissolved, his career just kept spiralling upward. Blew up bigger than ever with Elektric Band, Akoustic Band, Origin, Touchstone, a monster career. It happens, even in jazz. That's show biz. But it's not as though it just fell on him like an anvil. One needs to fill one's dance card pretty frequently to win 14 Grammys. With all that he's had going on he hasn't had much reason to look backward in time, eh wot?"

"Totally. My only point is that he founded Return To Forever. And the whole concept of 'returning to forever' was a philosophical one. It connoted a returning to a spiritual state in which time and space were playthings and not allowed to block or ensnare a person's creative nature, or the good things that come from's not as though such a person would never again get stuck in a traffic jam, or never again lose a filling or have to stay up late filing a tax return... but he wouldn't let it keep him from achieving his aims. His last comment on his website in September, after the tour was over, was 'Well, it looks like the PR phrase used to promote the tour has become a reality: Return To Forever has returned! And I'm very happy about that.' "

"Forever. Bloody hell, mate. That's beautiful."

"It's true, too."

"That leaves Stanley and Al," St. Nick intoned. "Ahem."

"Well," I said, "you could say that Stanley has had his own reluctant history and talked his own game about reuniting with RTF."

"You could say that. Sure, you could. But consider that he is the only other person besides Chick to have played in all the RTF personnel configurations. From the beginning, with Horacee Arnold on drums and Hubert Laws on flute, rehearsing in a loft and hoping for a gig, he was a part of RTF through thick and thin.... all the way to the big finish, with the smoking-hot big band version at the Palladium Theater in New York for their farewell concert on May 21, 1977, when they recorded their 4-disc album Return To Forever Live."

"Which the bloody bastards at Columbia ought to remaster and keep in print."

"And when it was time to reunite, Stanley was right there, every single step of the way. He's not a likely suspect."

"So, dear friends," St. Nick said in a very business-like tone, "in the words of Hercule Poirot, 'and then there was one.' What's he had to say for himself?"

Scotland Yard and I both laughed out loud.


"Al is a guitar player, Santa. Not only do the young women follow him around and fawn over him, so do the old women, young men, little girls, little boys, old hipsters and old rockers, grandmothers and den mothers. His website's forum gets more posts on it in a day than the other three get in a month, combined."

"Classic," Santa said. "And he likes to pop off once in awhile, right?"

"Right," I said.

"Exhibit A," Scotland Yard said. "Here's a little posting on from Al himself:"

Post subject: Re: A potential mistake by R2F...
Posted: Sun Oct 12, 2008 11:33 pm
Joined: Thu Dec 28, 2006 2:24 pmPosts: 79
Sad to say a studio recording is not going to happen with RTF and neither is a future tour it appears! We thought different but new music anyway seems more appealing to me anyway so with that news the future now of both my World Sinfonia acoustic group and Electric group project separately are looking great and new writing is in the works these next months! Thanks to all of you and the complete story on this subject can only be told off record! Al Di

"So, there's your boy," St. Nick stated flatly. "It was Al Di. He's the one who scuttled the Good Ship RTF's planned release of the DVD."

"And the studio album, future tours?"

"That seems to be the case. You've read the man's post... he may have had a little encouragement, real or imagined, but that's what happened," he said, his eyes misting. "But don't go jumping out a window. The Future is actually a collection of all our futures, and we create them all. The Future is a big place. But for now, RTF's doesn't seem to include Al."

"How can you be so sure?" I asked.

"How can I be sure? I'm St. Nick. I know whatever I want to know. It's what I do. I need to know who's been naughty and who's been nice in my business. To paraphrase what the Nike commercial says, I just know it."

"Bloody hell. We should have called you sooner," Scotland said, her eyes glowing. "You can just know something."

"Mm-hm. Yes. I must tell you, it is very useful to be able to recognize the truth when you see it. It saves a lot of messing around, a lot of time and energy."

"In a way, you have 'returned to forever'," I said.

"Yes, you could say that. And for you fans of deductive reasoning, the telltale line in Al's post on the fan forum is the one where he says the complete story would need to be told off the record. When he said that, he effectively confessed his culpability and spared you from having to hear the details. I'm sure there were all sorts of extenuating circumstances. The blow-by-blow description would likely be fascinating as can be, for at least 5 minutes..."

Scotland Yard and I sat in stunned silence for a few minutes.

"Why?" I asked. "How wounded could a great guitar player like Al Di Meola be?"

"The size of the wound..." the old elf sighed, his voice trailing off. "The size of the hurt is always comparable to the love between the wounder and wounded. It could be the smallest thing. But it is magnified through the lens of the relationship. Whatever it is, he'll likely get over it someday..." As St. Nick stood up and stretched, he looked at his watch. "Well, look at that. It's nearly 7:00 pm. But let's say we ended at 5:00 pm, and I'll just charge you for a single day."

"What do we owe you?" I asked, pulling out my checkbook.

"Owe me?" he asked. "That's not how it's done, young man. Strictly speaking, you don't owe me a thing. North Pole Rules."

"Come again...?"

"North Pole Rules. I'm St. Nick. Santa Claus. The jolly old elf. I have billions upon billions. My taxes support half the federal government budgets in the world, but no worries, I still have everything I could ever want. I'm your basic success story. I have a wife who loves me, work that I love, all the fine food I could ever eat, including several million or so cookies and glasses of milk a year, and on those cold Arctic nights, all the schnapps and hot chocolate I could ever drink. I wear these beautifully-tailored red suits and a hat that keeps my ears warm even at the pole. I drive a hot-rodded sleigh with a custom Rolls Royce engine that screams along on any fuel I can squeeze into the tank. I run a hugely successful business with hundreds of faithful and hard-working employees who produce an enormous volume of high-quality toys and goodies... I don't personally need or want anything. In my career and life, there's not nearly as much fun in receiving gifts as there is in seeing other people get what they want. Hence, the North Pole Rules."

"Which are?"

"Well, the rule that applies here is the one covering my compensation package. To compensate me adequately for what I just did for you, you need to figure out how to make someone else, or a lot of someone elses, that much happier. That's the rule. It just needs to be commensurate with what you've gotten, or expect to get," he said, flashing me a wink. "It's not measured in dollars -- that's all foolishness. You've got a bill in your hand for a full day at my premium holiday-season rate. That implies big-time consideration. And don't forget to work out how you might help cheer up Al Di as part of the deal. He's not all bad... down deep he's a pretty good guy, actually. I'm sure he would like to have a copy of the DVD in his stocking at Christmas, too."

"I suppose. Well, that's EXACTLY what I'd like to do, for all those Return To Forever fans. I'd like to get them all a DVD of the RTF 2008 reunion tour to put in their Christmas stockings."

"Then you'd best get busy, son," he said with a twinkle in his eye. "Ho ho ho, you'd best get busy."


* Return To Forever Live at Montreux 2008 will undoubtedly be a killer recording when it is released -- November 17th in Europe for £11.99, November 18th in the U.S. as an import, for $29.49:

Disc: 1

1. Opening Prayer

2. Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy

3. Vulcan Worlds

4. Sorceress

5. Song To The Pharaoh Kings

Disc: 2

1. No Mystery

2. Romantic Warrior

3. Duel Of The Jester And The Tyrant

1 comment:

Carlton said...

Carl, what can I say. I love it. Keep it up, can't wait till my friend reads it!!!!!