Return to Forever... Returns!

Return to Forever (L-R): Jean Luc Ponty, Lenny White, Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Frank Gambale
Return to Forever (L-R): Jean Luc Ponty, Lenny White, Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Frank Gambale
Photos courtesy of Eagle Rock

Return to Forever The Mothership Returns Eagle Rock (2-CD/1-DVD), $24.98.

Combining the wordless instrumental dexterity of jazz and the loud, hi-energy performance of rock, jazz fusion bridged that musical gap during the genre's '70s heyday. And three groups led the way: Weather Report, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Return to Forever.

This double-disc live set, recorded during RTF's 2011 world tour last year, features the current lineup of founding members Chick Corea (keyboards) and Stanley Clarke (bass), along with classic lineup member Lenny White (drums) and--in this incarnation -- Jean Luc Ponty (violin) and Frank Gambale (guitar).

Neither is a stranger to jazz fans, and Ponty's violin in particular makes a hefty contribution to the material.

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True jazz fusion -- or "jazz rock" -- is not the smooth jazz of Kenny G, David Sanborn or Spyro Gyra. Nor is it Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears. Nor the jazz flute of Ron Burgundy, as this set of material plainly shows.

From the frenetic cacophony of "Medieval Overture" and the voluptuous groove of "The Shadow of Lo/Sorceress" to the epic and hypnotic "Concierto de Aranjuez/Spain" and the proggy/arena rock leanings of "The Romantic Warrior," this is mind-expanding stuff.

Even Clarke's solo release "School Days" -- maybe his most famous tune -- gets an elegant, then lively workout. The musicianship is flawless as well.

The bonus DVD includes an "Inside the Music" feature with bandmembers discussing the CD material, full performance clips of "After the Cosmic Rain" and "The Romantic Warrior," and a lengthy preview of the upcoming documentary The Story of Return to Forever.

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