Slide show by Jon Solomon
Return to Forever Tuesday, June 3, 2008 Paramount Theatre Better Than: Going back to the future.
When it comes to chops, Lenny White, Chick Corea, Al Di Meola and Stanley Clarke are heavyweights. Just seeing one of these guys on his own would be a treat, but to see all four of these cats on the same stage together, well, that’s about as close to nirvana as jazz fans can get. White best summed Return to Forever up best when he said, “In an era of boy bands, this is a man band.”
The sold out crowd last night at the Paramount loved every minute of the two-hour plus set, giving the band standing ovations after nearly every song. Their exuberance was completely understandable. It's hard not to get excited seeing four guys who were phenomenal three decades ago now with that much more experience under their belts.
The band opened its electrifying first set with “Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy” and then went right into “Vulcan Worlds.” When Di Meola shredded away with rapid fire licks on his multi-colored PRS guitar, the crowd went absolutely nuts. Come to think of it, folks went crazy nearly every time he took a solo. Same with Clarke, who effortlessly delivered fiery solos with ease, looking as calm as could be while playing some insanely fast riffs on the high register of his bass.
After diving deep into some funk on White’s “Sorceress,” the drummer got up from behind his kit, walked to front of the stage and said, “Some marriages don’t last 25 years, but now you guys and us have lasted 25 years.”
Indeed. And it was time to consummate this relationship. Some of the folks on hand last night have been fans of the music all along but never got a chance to see the band before. Or perhaps their love was passed down, like the father and son sitting in front of me. Either way, this was a once in lifetime chance to see each guy take stellar solos and to stretch out on tunes like “Song to the Pharoah Kings.”
While the guys came out swinging hard on the first set, they toned it down a tad for the second set, which started out as mainly an acoustic affair. Di Meola soloed on his own "Fantasia Suite for Two Guitars" before the group went into “No Mystery.” He then introduced “The Romantic Warrior” by saying that album of the same name had been recorded at Colorado’s Caribou Ranch. Corea’s intro to the tune was amazing, even hitting the piano strings with a drum mallet at one point. Clarke’s stand-up bass solo was equally jaw-dropping with some deft slapping and popping.
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After closing the second set with “Duel of the Jester and the Tyrant,” Corea came out with a keytar strapped over his shoulder. He played bits of “Dayride” and had the crowd singing them back to him. Before long, the band joined in a rode it out with Corea and Di Meola trading licks.
On the way out, a guy behind me said, “My soul feels good.” His buddy said, “Yeah, I feel like I was stoned by music.”
-- Jon Solomon
Critic’s Notebook: Personal Bias: I was in grade school around the time they guys were recording albums, and I’m damn glad I got to see this classic line-up. Random Detail: Corea was wearing plaid Vans. By the Way: Miles Davis’s tune “In a Silent Way” was playing over the house speakers just before the band took the stage.