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We lost one of the greats, Chick Corea earlier this year. It was one of those losses that are hard to absorb. He was so incredibly vital. Even while ill, during the pandemic he was streaming regular solo piano concerts from his home studio. He always exuded such positive, life affirming energy, right until the end. In his last year, he started Chick Corea University and was teaching one to one over Zoom. In retrospect, I think he knew his time was short and wanted to share his knowledge with as many people as possible.

Chick was one of those people who strongly influenced me in my formative years. I loved his early acoustic work, Tones for Jones Bones and Inner Space and all his wonderful contributions as a sideman for Miles Davis, Bobby Hucherson and Stan Getz, among others. I consider Now He Sings Now He Sobs to be one of the top 10 trio albums of all time. He was only 26 when he recorded that timeless masterpiece. Chick thought it was his best album.

He had such a long and mercurial career, moving from one genre to another. I loved all the ECM releases, the duo albums with Gary Burton, the trio album with the original Now He Sings lineup (Roy Haynes and Miroslav Vitous,) the two iconic solo piano records and the eponymous Return to Forever album. In fact, I was a huge fan up until the ill conceived last RTF album, Music Magic, which I simply couldn’t stand. After that, I stopped automatically buying his albums and slowly lost touch with his musical career. Now that he has passed, I am reconsidering his importance in the history of the music, and am checking out some of the later albums I missed. I saw him countless times during his ever changing musical incarnations. I was lucky to see him perform a burning straight ahead set with Brian Blade and Christian McBride just a few years back. He remained a magnificent jazz pianist right until the end. The last time I saw him was locally – he brought the Elektrik Band to a nearby town for a fun night of virtuosic fusion closing for Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Both bands performed together for the encore. But enjoyable as they were,  the Elektrik band just never had the chemistry and grit of early RTF.

As far as I’m concerned, the beginning of the fusion era really started in that iconic year that has been referenced a lot lately, 1973. That was the year Mahavishnu Orchestra put out the searing Birds of Fire. It was also the year Chick Corea’s newly reformed Return to Forever released Hymn to the Seventh Galaxy. Neither release was anything like Weather Report’s early excursions, even 1973’s Sweetnighter still owed a great deal to Miles Davis’s more spontaneous form of jazz-rock. And the same could be said of Herbie Hancock’s Miles influenced Sextant. No, even though Chick was a part of the Miles lineage, having played on Filles de Kilimanjaro, In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew among others, this was something entirely different. It was totally composition driven, groove centered, bottom heavy music firmly rooted in Stanley Clarks rude, snarling bass and Lenny White’s unabashed balls to the wall rock drumming. Pre-synth, Chick conjured all those wildly distorted sounds with nothing more than a Rhodes piano and a few effects put thru a Fender Twin Reverb amp. Bill Connors rounded out the group on electric guitar. Bill is a melodic player, even on electric. And even in this extremely aggressive setting, his solos are models of soaring lines and emotional intensity, with none of the wanking virtuality Al Di Meola was prone to in the coming years after he replaced Connors. I loved Hymn then and played it to death, but even then thought the sound quality left a lot to be desired – it was such a poor recording, it just didn’t communicate the raw magnificence of the live band (saw that incarnation at the Troubador in LA where they performed the entire album -unforgettable.) I have not really thought much about it since and when revisiting, and was frustrated by how thin and small the sound was on the poor sounding CD release.

I knew about the 2008 remixed Anthology but had never picked it up- until about two weeks ago – these remixed tracks are something else, a whole new way of listening to RTF. I already owned a remastered Japanese version of the more prog influenced Romantic Warrior which was amazing…before I heard the remix. These were done at Chick’s Mad Hatter Studio with Chick on hand to supervise. I bought this primarily for Hymn – after all, it was The album that made me a fusion believer. This remix conveys the power and glory of Hymn – It is nothing short of astounding that they were able to create such a powerful and ballsy remix from those ancient tapes. It sounds as if it was recorded in a modern state of the art studio. Lenny’s drums are much more forward and deep – his kick is solid as a rock here. Stanley’s bass growls and struts like a prehistoric beast across the primal aural terrain. It is literally like hearing it for the first time. Just to hear Hymn this way is worth the price of admission, but you get so much more, including the entire Romantic Warrior, sounding better than ever. The only thing that could’ve improved this compilation would’ve been to include the other two RTF albums, No Mystery and Where Have I known You Before in full. You do get sone of the best tracks off both of those worthy albums. I am left wanting more and simply can’t go back to those earlier wimpy sounding CDs. Even the vinyl pales in comparison.

If you are an RTF fan, especially of the “first 4” (post-ECM Return to Forever and Light as a Feather (Polydor,), both classics,) RTF albums, you simply have to get this. Remember those old Maxell tape ads back in the 70s, where the guy is listening to music while siting in a lounge chair and his hair is being blown back as if by a gale force wind? Listening to this remix actually does that.

This entry was posted on Freitag, 11. Juni 2021 and is filed under "Blog". You can follow any responses to this entry with RSS 2.0. You can leave a response here. Pinging is currently not allowed.

5 Comments

  1. Michael Engelbrecht:

    Apart from his works as sideman in Miles Davis’s groups, apart from Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, his early ECM recordings from CIRCLE (the one with the yellow cover) to Piano Improv. 1+2, and the first RTF album (and the TRIO MUSIC album with Roy Haynes and Miroslav Vitous (?) – also on ECM), I lost interest. Light As A Feather didn‘t put a spell on me, in contrast to the first RTF, and ROMANTIC WARRIOR – well, pale memories, nothing to say about it. For reasons right or wrong I put the SEVENTH GALAXY in the same category of overblown fusion like BETWEEN NOTHINGNESS AND ETERNITY from the MO.

    The 70‘s were a shangrila of musical excellence, and even music obsessed humans like me sometimes had to make quick decisions. Your enthusiasm for these remasters made me order it at once. As with Kate Bush‘s HOUNDS OF LOVE that failed to impress me, I‘m ready to revisit some of those neglected albums from the old days. I will even free myself – mentally – from knowing abouf Chick‘s connection with Scientology when listening again.

    That said,andinfected ny your enthusiasm, I ordered the 2008 remasters.

    And, to join the club of fusion afficionados, BIRDS OF FIRE is a true lifer, as is MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER. And the dirst RTF album: even the trippy hippie lyrics couldn‘t weaken the magic impact of the music – the way Flora sang them, made them true and trustworthy.

  2. Brian Whistler:

    Well, Hymn suffers none of the excesses and self-conscious cuteness that some of Chick’s later music did, culminating in the awful last RTF album from that time (there were reunions later of course,) the unlistenable Music Magic. But Hymn was pure – the energy, the writing – it’s youthful full-on fusion, as vital as anything from that short lived monsoon of undiluted energy. This should be a part the collection of anyone who loved that raw period, that was so quickly diluted and commercialized into what we called Fuzak. This is the real deal. And Romantic Warrior has its moments as well, especially geared on this collection. A lot of power. It was really a prog jazz record. Also The title track from No Mystery is a fantastic acoustic fusion recording, one for the ages. There’s a lot of gold to mine in this collection.

  3. Michael Engelbrecht:

    Always looking for a heart of gold …

    The German MPS label had really released some great, great fusion albums. Don‘t know if were in touch with them, like Volker Kriegel‘s MISSING LINK, or Chris Hinze‘s MISSION SUITE … a lot of treasures to find …

  4. Brian Whistler:

    Missed those. I will look for a stream. There were all sorts of hidden gems back in the say. I remember digging Horace Arnold’s Tales on the Exonerated Flea, and also Mike Nocks underrated group The Fourth Way. That live album The Sun and Moon Have Come Together still haunts me.

  5. Uwe Meilchen:

    There will be a Tribute concert (via Youtube) for Chick Corea on what would have been his 80th birthday.

    https://www.carnegiehall.org/Calendar/2021/06/12/Live-with-Carnegie-Hall-A-Tribute-to-Chick-Corea-0730PM

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