Return to Forever is a jazz fusion group founded and led by pianist Chick Corea.
Through its existence, the band has cycled through a number of
different members, with the only consistent band mate of Corea's being
bassist Stanley Clarke. Along with Weather Report and Mahavishnu
Orchestra, Return to Forever is often cited as one of the core groups of
the jazz-fusion movement of the 1970s. Several musicians, including
Clarke, Flora Purim, Airto Moreira and Al Di Meola, first came to prominence through their performances on Return to Forever's albums.
After playing on Miles Davis's groundbreaking jazz-fusion albums In a
Silent Way and Bitches Brew, Corea formed an avant-garde jazz band
called Circle with Dave Holland, Anthony Braxton and Barry Altschul.
However in 1972, after having become a member of Scientology, Corea
decided that he wanted to better "communicate" with the audience. This
essentially translated into his performing a more popularly accessible
style of music, since avant-garde jazz enjoyed a relatively small
First group (1972–1973)
The first edition of Return to Forever performed primarily
Latin-oriented music. This initial band consisted of singer (and
occasional percussionist) Flora Purim, her husband Airto Moreira (both
Brazilians) on drums and percussion, Corea's longtime musical co-worker
Joe Farrell on saxophone and flute, and the young Stanley Clarke on
bass. Within this first line-up in particular, Clarke played acoustic
double bass in addition to electric bass. Corea's electric piano formed
the basis of this group's sound. Corea was yet to discover synthesizers,
his trademark sound in the group's later years. Clarke and Farrell were
given ample solo space themselves. While Purim's vocals lent some
commercial appeal to the music, many of their compositions were also
instrumental and somewhat experimental in nature. The music was composed
by Corea with the exception of the title track of the second album
which was written by Stanley Clarke. Lyrics were often written by
Corea's friend Neville Potter, and were quite often scientology themed-
though this is not readily apparent to those not involved in Scientology
itself. Clarke himself became involved in Scientology through Corea,
but eventually left the religion in the early 1980s.
Their first album, titled simply Return to Forever, was recorded for ECM
Records in 1972 and was initially released only in Europe. This album
featured Corea's now famous compositions Crystal Silence and La Fiesta.
Shortly afterwards, Corea, Airto, Clarke and Tony Williams formed the
band for Stan Getz's album Captain Marvel (1972), which featured Corea's
compositions- including some from the first and second Return to
Forever albums. Their second album, Light as a Feather (1972), was
released by Polydor and included the song, Spain, which also became
quite well known.
Jazz rock era (1973–1976)
After the second album, Farrell, Purim and Moreira left the group to
form their own band, and guitarist Bill Connors, drummer Steve Gadd and
percussionist Mingo Lewis were added. However, Gadd was unwilling to
tour with the band and risk his job as an in-demand session drummer.
Lenny White (who had played with Corea in Miles Davis's band) replaced
Gadd and Lewis on drums and percussion, and the group's third album,
Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy (1973), was then rerecorded (the first
recording, featuring Gadd on drums, was never released and has since
The nature of the group's music had by now completely changed into
jazz-rock, and had evolved into a similar vein as to that the Mahavishnu
Orchestra, Weather Report, and some progressive rock bands were also
performing at the time. Their music was still relatively melodic,
relying on strong themes, but the traditional jazz element was by this
time almost entirely absent- replaced by a more direct, rock oriented
approach. Over-driven, distorted guitar had also become prominent in the
band's new sound, and Clarke had by then switched almost completely to
electric bass guitar. A replacement on vocals was not hired, and all the
songs were now instrumentals. This change did not lead to a decrease in
the band's commercial fortunes however, Return to Forever's jazz rock
albums instead found their way onto US pop album charts.
In the Sept. 1988 "Down Beat Magazine" interview with Chick Corea by
Josef Woodward, Josef says (page 19), "There is this general view ...
that ... Miles [Davis] crystallized electric jazz fusion and that he
sent his emissaries out." Chick responds, "Nah, that's Disneyland. Miles
is definitely a leader ... But there were other things that occurred
that I thought were equally as important. What John McLaughlin did with
the electric guitar set the world on its ear. No one ever heard an
electric guitar played like that before, and it certainly inspired me.
... John's band, more than my experience with Miles, led me to want to
turn the volume up and write music that was more dramatic and made your
hair move." http://www.cs.cf.ac.uk/Dave/mclaughlin/art/sheppard.html
While their second jazz rock album, Where Have I Known You Before,
(1974) was similar in style to its immediate predecessor, Corea now
played synthesizers in addition to electric keyboards (including piano),
and Clarke's playing had evolved considerably- now using flange and
fuzz-tone effects, and with his now signature style beginning to emerge.
After Bill Connors left the band to concentrate on his solo career, the
group also hired new guitarists. Although Earl Klugh played guitar for
some of the group's live performances, he was soon replaced by the then
19-year-old guitar prodigy Al Di Meola, who had also played on the album
Their following album, No Mystery (1975), was recorded with the same
line-up as "Where Have I Known You Before", but the style of music had
become more varied. The first side of the record consisted primarily of
jazz-funk, while the second side featured Corea's acoustic title track
and a long composition with a strong Spanish influence. On this and the
following album, each member of the group composed at least one of the
tracks. No Mystery went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Jazz
Performance by a Group.
The final album by this longest-lasting "classic" lineup of the group
was Romantic Warrior (1976), which had by this time left Polydor for
Columbia Records. This album would go on to become the best selling of
all Return to Forever's efforts, eventually reaching gold disc status.
"Romantic Warrior" continued their experiments in the realms of
jazz-rock and related musical genres, and was lauded by critics for both
the technically demanding style of its compositions as well as for its
After the release of Romantic Warrior and Return To Forever's subsequent
tour in support (as well as having in addition signed a multi-million
dollar contract with CBS), Corea shocked Clarke by deciding to change
the lineup of the group and to not include either White or Di Meola.
In 1983 this lineup did, in fact, return briefly to the stage, but did
not record a new album, and rather recorded only one track that was
issued on Corea's Touchstone album entitled "Compadres".
Final album (1977)
The final incarnation of Return to Forever featured a four piece horn
section and Corea's wife Gayle singing vocals, but recorded only one
studio album, Musicmagic (1977).
In 1978, after issuing a live album of the tour for this album (a
four-disc set), Return to Forever Live-the Complete Concert, Chick Corea
officially disbanded the group.
The classic Return to Forever line-up of Corea, Clarke, White, and Di
Meola reunited for a tour of the United States that began in the summer
of 2008. A special Return to Forever anthology box-set, featuring
remixed and digitally remastered tracks from the albums Hymn of the
Seventh Galaxy, Where Have I Known You Before, No Mystery, and Romantic
Warrior, was released to coincide with the tour. To date, no new
material from the group has been announced. From February 2011, the
group commenced a world tour in Australia. Many dates on the nearly
year-long tour included Dweezil Zappa's Zappa Plays Zappa band as an
opening act with Corea occasionally appearing in Zappa's band guesting
on keyboards for a song or two, as well as Jean-Luc Ponty performing
some of the songs that he originally performed with Frank Zappa.