Record #406: Chick Corea – Return to Forever (1972)

Just yesterday, I mentioned that I’ve spent the last few weeks looking into what Miles Davis’ cohorts were up to during his fantastic electric period. While Herbie Hancock was busy launching jazz into space, his best friend Chic Corea was tethering it to the earth.
In the liner notes of this album, Chick says that Return to Forever (which was the group that performed this album, despite it being credit to Chick alone) was born out of a desire to reconnect his jazz explorations with the heart of emotional songwriting. He had gotten a bit lost in his own head, and wanted to put his soul back into music.
And for the most part, this hits that mark. Chick plays a Fender Rhodes throughout the session, without much effects trickery. There’s no shortage of experimental jazz weirdness, but there’s also a fair amount of Latin flair. Oh, and a pop song. 
The opener, “Return to Forever” is an incredible, moody twelve-minute piece of space jazz with wordless vocals and a deep samba groove. “Crystal Silence” is an In a Silent Way-esque piece of ambience that finds Chick’s Rhodes accompanied only by Joe Ferrell’s woodwinds. “What Game Shall we Play Today?” is a delightful pop tune that sounds like could be on Sesame Street (note: that is not an insult!). 
The closer, “Some Time Ago/La Fiesta” takes up the entirety of side B and manages to revisit every track before it. It opens with an obtuse, ambient section where bassist Stanley Clarke finally gets his day in the sun. It then transitions into a Latin-tinged pop song featuring Flora Purim’s enchanting vocals. After her verses, it becomes a much more aggressive flamenco inspired jam, that ends up nowhere near the place it began.
At times, it runs the risk of sounding dated, or even a little cheesy. But it somehow transcends the signifiers of its era and manages to become truly timeless. While his contemporaries were getting lost in space or hitching their wagon’s to funk’s swagger, Corea took the road less traveled and made an album that is truly special.

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