Chick Corea on the Return to Forever's latest incarnation and this tour versus the last one

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The last time Return to Forever (due at the Parmount Theatre tomorrow night) played in the Mile High City in 2008, we overhead one guy marveling at how the show was on how par with a spiritual experience for him. It was certainly one of the more electrifying jazz fusion shows we've seen in these parts in recent years, not too surprising considering that each of the musicians -- pianist Chick Corea, bassist Stanley Clarke, guitarist Al DiMeola and drummer Lenny White -- are prodigious players.

Since then, Corea has come through Denver with the Five Peace Band and the Chick Corea Freedom Band. Corea is back with Return to Forever IV, which doesn't include DiMeola, but it includes guitarist Frank Gambale and former Mahavishnu Orchestra violinist Jean-Luc Ponty. We spoke with Corea about the band's new line-up as well as Forever, the acoustic trio album he appears on with Clarke and White.

Westword: How's the tour been going so far?

Chick Corea: We're like a bunch of old friends getting together. We're really having a lot of fun. We're on the bus. We're playing every day. We got this young band, Zappa Plays Zappa, opening for us. They're really cool. We all love Frank Zappa's music, so that's another perk. We're really doing good, man.

I saw you with Return to Forever when you came through in 2008 and then with the Five Peace Band and Freedom Band after that. It sounds like you're really staying busy.

Yeah, well, it keeps me fresh. It's the thing I love to do, so I feel fortunate I can keep doing it.

How does this current Return to Forever tour compare to the last one a few years ago?

We're getting the Return to Forever motor going. My friendship with Stanley and Lenny is growing really great. We go way back. Stanley and I go way back to when we worked together in Joe Henderson's band back in 1969 or '70. Stanley has been with me through all the various versions of Return to Forever. In fact, we were making a list the other day of all the musicians who have come through the band. We had to stop the conversation because we had to play the gig, but we got up to 25. I think we missed a few, but this is the most version so far. We're really having a blast.

Jean-Luc has brought a great energy and inspiration into the band. We're old friends from back in the '70s. He was a very important member of the Mahivishnu Orchestra then and of course created such good music through the years. We're together on the stage, and it's great. Frank, from my Elektric Band, we have a long track together. It's been really good. We're playing new arrangements of some of the old music, but everything's coming out fresh.

Do you change things up from night to night as far as arrangements go?

Only a small portion of the songs that we play are the arrangement of the music. But most of the development of the program is improvised. It really changes every night. We could play the same song ten times in a row and it comes out ten different ways.

With the caliber of the guys in the band, it must pretty exciting playing every night with those guys.

You have to come and hear it, man.

After Return to Forever came though the Paramount a few years ago, I heard a guy say the show was on par with a religious experience for him. Have you had fans tell you similar things?

You can really see it in people's faces in the audience. It's one nice thing about live performance is that the communication is immediate. The people are right there. There's nothing in between us and them. There's no commerciality. There's no TV screen. There are no books or other people's opinions. There are no words even. In our music, there aren't any vocals. It's just instrumental music. So we get a chance to go up on that musical plane and bring people with us. Like I said, I feel very fortunate to be able to do this every night.

I'm really digging your trio album, Forever, with Lenny and Stanley. Do you see it any differently playing more electric stuff with them versus the acoustic stuff you did on Forever, or is it a similar kind of experience?

Well, we got a whole new set of music that we put together. Some of the songs, like I said, are new arrangements on old tunes, but Stanley's got his upright bass with him, and we're floating back and forth between the electric and the acoustic music. But the band has developed kind of sound now with the instruments that we're using that's unique to this version Return to Forever that I'm really enjoying. It's a nice, thick, rich musical sound.

I read that the idea to tour with this particular line-up came after you guys recorded Forever?

We had this one gig at the Hollywood Bowl that we were rehearsing for at Mad Hatter Studios. The result of that rehearsal is one of the CDs on that Forever album with Chaka Khan, Jean-Luc and Bill Connors. We did that one concert and during the rest of 2009, Stanley, Lenny and myself decided to do acoustic music. So we took the trio out and result of that was the other CD on Forever. Then during the tour we were just talking about what was next and came up with, "Lets do another version of Return to Forever and invite Jean-Luc and Frank."

You had guitarist Bill Connors on a few shows as well, right?

Yeah. We're hoping Billy's going to play with us some more at some point too.

Since you and Stanley and Lenny go way back, how would you describe the chemistry between the three of you?

It's a long friendship from the early '70s and we've all had a lot of experiences. One of the parts to how we all mutually love music is we come from playing in jazz groups. Stanley's worked with Pharoah Sanders and Sun Ra and Horace Silver and Freddie Hubbard. Lenny's worked with Freddie and Joe Henderson and a lot of other great jazz musicians.

Lenny and I recorded together on Bitches Brew, Miles's project back in the late '60s. That's our roots, and no matter where we come from, no matter how electrified our music becomes, it all stems from a jazz root like that. Our tastes are all very similar in that way so the music has that flavor to it that we love.

I'd imagine you'd still draw some inspiration from that experience playing with Miles on Bitches Brew?

Yeah. I can't deny that. It was important to all of us.

Anything else new or in the works?

Right now we've got another several months of touring ahead of us. That's the way we've got our heads. Occasionally we talk about something in the future, but right now we're concert-to-concert, nose to the musical grindstone, which we all love. I'm sure there will probably be a DVD and a CD, at least, coming from this tour. Then we each individually have lots of stuff lined up for next year. I'm not sure what the next step is for Return to Forever.

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