Sunday, June 15, 2008

THE CONCERT OF THE YEAR...?



There are concerts and then there are transcendent events that take your breath away. Friday night I experienced the latter. In spades.

RETURN TO FOREVER, the famed jazz fusion group, performed last Friday here at the Gibson Amphitheater in Los Angeles. What a show! And what a crowd! Very rarely do you see such an eclectic mix of races and ages. This was their first concert tour since 1983, and that was only a brief one-off series of shows -- so really this is the first time these for musicians have worked seriously together since 1976.

Either way you look at it, 25 or 32 years is a long for a band to be apart. So much of what makes great groups prosper is chemistry, and chemistry takes time and proximity. So how were they?

Brilliant. Mesmerizing. Astonishing.



Now as most of you know, I'm a bass player myself, and yes... Stanley Clarke IS my idol. But I'm telling you, this entire band was on fire. Don't believe me? Check out the clip below, courtesy of You Tube. Oh, and if you want to see something really cool, go to about 8:50 into the clip and listen as the ENTIRE CROWD exchanges scat vocal call-and-responses with Chick! (The low singing guy is me!)



The concert lasted a kick-ass TWO-AND-A-HALF hours. Los Angeles Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar introduced the show, adding that he's been friends with the band for many years. The previous night was Chick's birthday, so Stanley led us all in a rendition of the birthday song. When it was revealed that Chick was born in Boston--one night after the worst Finals defeat in Laker history--the crowd booed. Chick apologized and asks us not to hold this against him, which we didn't.



The first half of the show was electric with the group blasting through hits from their three 70s lps, "Where Have I Known You Before," "No Mystery," and "Romantic Warrior." What was so surprising was that while no one has lost their musical chops and the ability to shred at a thousand miles an hour, age and maturity has brought an expansion in the group's dynamic range. The concert started out with a slow, gradual grace, each musician displaying delicate interplay with the others, culminating into a furious grove and one of my favorite RTF tunes, "Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy." Then, the band got FUNKY. Yes, you read that correctly. The world's most famous fusion band broke out some nasty, funky, hip-hop grooves, specifically during the song, "Sorceress." Ooooh, too good!!!

After a 15-20 minute break, the second half of the show highlighted the group on acoustic instruments. And this is where the event transcended into outer space. My God. They're all even BETTER on acoustic instruments than they are on electric ones. Al Di Meola's solo spot on classical guitar was just beautiful and poignant.



And Stanley's acoustic bass solo? FUCK. I, a writer, have no words to describe it. If you love music, you MUST see this man play live before it's too late. He doesn't just play the bass. He celebrates the human condition on it, all the while expressing and sharing his pure joy with the audience.

Yes, I cried and have no problems admitting it.

Not to be outdone, both Lenny and Chick got down acoustically on the title cut from their most famous lp, "The Romantic Warrior." Lenny thanked the audience for supporting instrumental music, pointing out that in today's plastic age of short attention spans and boy bands, RTF is still a "man's band." I'll extend that on his behalf, and say even moreso that it is a "people's band" -- all inclusive and a joy to behold.

What more is there to say? Well, RTF is still on tour, folks. Go to the web address below to see the remaining dates, and if they come your way... GO SEE THEM. Take the whole family. You won't regret it. And if you need a refresher course on their music or are new to jazz fusion, pick up their new CD, "Return to Forever -- The Anthology." It's a greatest hits collection that's been remastered; I have the old versions of these songs, and the new remastering makes them sound better than ever.

http://www.return2forever.com/

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