The last two weeks of January 2011 have been quite a time for Chick Corea.
First, he spent a week rehearsing about of a dozen of his finest compositions with Wynton Marsalis and his award-winning Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, who honored Chick by writing unique arrangements of his songs, then playing them with him at three sold-out shows at the beautiful Rose Hall.
Then, the very next day after the last of the three days of performances, he was in Carroll Studios in Manhattan with a group of musicians he knows pretty well to put things together for a world-wide tour that begins in February in Australia. Oh yeah, the band is the fourth incarnation of one of the greatest in all of jazz history . . . Return to Forever!
I consider myself honored to have been invited by Chick’s management team of Bill and Julie Rooney to come to the rehearsal to talk to the guys and get an idea of what to expect when RTF IV takes to the stage in 2011.
In short . . . expect to be thrilled. It’s Chick on piano, Stanley Clarke on bass, Lenny White on drums and—get ready—Jean-Luc Ponty on violin and Frank Gambale on guitars! I had run into Lenny at the Montreal Jazz Fest in 2009 and he told me to get ready for the return of RTF once again in the future.
Well, the future is now, and as I entered the rehearsal space and felt the strong, positive and confident spirit that these five masters conjure together, I knew something special was being cooked up.
This isn’t going to be a collection of jams, my friends: these gentlemen were rehearsing the intricate music they’ve become famous for. We’re talking grand compositions in movements with elements of jazz, rock and classical all in one piece.
I won’t spoil the surprise for you, but you will hear songs you know given a new twist to incorporate the unique talents of the participants. You’ll hear new music as well, and since Jean-Luc Ponty is now a member of RTF (how exciting does THAT sound?) you’ll hear some of his music played by this lineup alongside Corea, Clarke & White tunes. THAT would almost be worth the price of admission!
Witnessing the rehearsal just lifted my spirits, and I was already feeling pretty excited, but this music is simply inspiring. There was the stopping and starting that occurs in any rehearsal where material is being worked out, and when you look at some of these charts it looks like a black page—intricate stuff. But when things were clicking, strong vibrations were happening and drawing me in. I can’t wait for the real thing in concert.
I know these are gentlemen who know each other well. Chick, Stanley and Lenny have played together for 4 decades now, Jean-Luc and Frank Gambale played together before Frank joined Chick’s Elektric Band. Jean-Luc and Stanley go back to the Rite Of Strings project, and Chick and Jean-Luc have been involved in numerous collaborations over the years.
It all felt so natural. It IS natural, and there were only few things to be worked out as there was an obvious shared language and a warm, friendly, collegial attitude among the members of this group that was palpable.
And then there’s simply the sound! When the three string players are soaring together, it’s uplifting. Lenny White keeps the pulse moving forward effortlessly from hard-driving backbeat to straight ahead swing.
And Chick . . . what can you say? I just think he’s playing as well as he ever has, and he just automatically emotes, seemingly without effort, as he moves between acoustic and electric keyboards.
Another thing that’s obvious is that these guys are having fun with one another. You can be sure that we’ll all have fun when they hit the stage. There won’t be a better or more important show to attend in 2011, and you lucky folks in Australia will be the first to witness it!
I invite all my listeners on Voice of America or online at mojaradio.com in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania and Indonesia to get your tickets and get on a plane! RTF IV is preparing for action!