Monday, February 28, 2011

RTF IV Hymn of the 7th Galaxy Tour : First Stop, Australia

Earlier this month the newly re-constituted jazz/rock supergroup Return To Forever kicked off its RTF IV Hymn Of The 7th Galaxy world tour with two weeks in the land Down Under. Jean-Luc Ponty’s superb violin has been added and Al DiMeola’s guitar has been replaced by Frank Gambale’s.

All five musicians in RTF IV possess famously world-class chops, but getting players who have the technical prowess to do the job has seemingly never been an issue for Chick Corea and his various outfits called Return To Forever, now or ever: his own technique, sharp ears and advanced skills as both a composer and leader have given him a reputation as a rainmaker and kept him in the company of the world’s best jazz musicians since the beginning. Even in those early days, in November of 1971 when they were a nameless band booked for a gig at the Village Vanguard on the basis of Chick’s name, the personnel included Stanley Clarke on bass (who has been the bassist in every edition of RTF), Horacee Arnold on drums, Hubert Laws on flute and Flora Purim doing the vocals.

But that’s all history. It’s also really beside the point.

In this band, technique is a given. Chops are a requirement and just a stamp on the passport into the group. Every member of RTF IV can stun you with a 16th or 32nd or 64th note run or play a jaw-dropping solo, but the real question is, what does this new configuration of musical talents mean in practical terms?

In a recent phone conversation with drummer Lenny White, he told me it means a high level of musicality. Which sounds simple, but in fact, is the result of a complex weaving of the sum total of melody, harmony, rhythm, texture, dynamics and other elements into a pleasing whole, some of which has been rehearsed and some which is improvised on the spot. Collaboration is the thing. It is measured by the aesthetic results. Musically, the real creativity and fun begins when the all the component parts come together and complement each other. It’s fine for a musician to have a big ego, as long his level of admiration and respect for his musical collaborators is just as big. It’s not as easy as it looks. How many artistic relationships formed in the 70s and 80s have lasted into the new millennium? How many are still friends, and are writing new material? Exactly.

RTF IV is the real thing, organically grown, not another all-star grouping which looks good on paper but which, like an All Star team full of big name players, has the marquee value needed to sell tickets but no real life in it. So another word White used to describe this astonishing lineup—Chick Corea, p.; Stanley Clarke, b.; Lenny White, d.; Frank Gambale, g.; and Jean-Luc Ponty, v.—was “maturity.” As in, possessing the qualities of cooperation, wisdom and judgment one could expect from people who have been at this game for awhile, plus the musical breadth of knowledge, the understanding of the idiom and its history, that can be used to exchange meaningful musical ideas every night. As an example, he said that one of the surprises about the addition of versatile Frank Gambale was what RTF could do now with the blues. Long an admirer of the talents of former RTF band mate/guitarists Bill Connors and Al DiMeola, White has the ears of a producer (he used them to co-produce Stanley Clarke’s recent Grammy winner Stanley Clarke Band on Heads Up Records) and appreciates what Gambale’s musicianship has brought to the band. His enthusiasm for the unique possibilities that come with the guitarist’s addition was obvious. Despite what he characterized as “not much” available rehearsal time before they started their tour, he said the results were “magical.”

The only other dates announced so far by booking agent Ted Kurland are two in France next July:

07/07/2011 Return to Forever IV
Hymn Of The 7th Galaxy Tour Vienne Jazz Festival
7 Rue du Cirque

07/14/2011 Return to Forever IV
Hymn Of The 7th Galaxy Tour Theatre de la Mer
Route de la Corniche


Sydney opera house 15 Feb 11

Leonard Feather demonstrates the blues

RTF IV Hymn of the 7th Galaxy Tour official video

Photo Credit for shot of RTF on stage at the Sydney Opera House: Ed Pozza of Canberra Jazz Blog

No comments: