Just over 40 years ago pianist-keyboardist Chick Corea put together a fusion jazz band that was to prove to be one of the most successful outfits in the crossover genre’s history. The original 1972 lineup of Return to Forever included Jewish-Brazilian singer Flora Purim and her compatriot husband drummer and percussionist Airto Moreira, as well as Joe Farrell on saxophone and flute and then 21-year-old Stanley Clarke on bass. Next week, Corea and Clarke will play two concerts here – at the Herzliya Zappa Club and Zappa Amphitheater at Shuni, on July 17-18 – in a program that will hark back to those halcyon days.
Before he came up with the idea of Return to Forever, Corea had already paid his fusion dues in legendary trumpeter Miles Davis’s stellar late 1960s band. Davis’s group signaled the dawn of fusion, particularly with his masterly crafted records In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew, released in 1969 and 1970 respectively, on which Corea played electric piano. Prior to that he had delved into areas of Latin endeavor and had enjoyed fruitful synergies with some of the leading avant-gardists of the mid- ’60s. He engaged in more free jazz creativity after he left Davis in 1970, together with former Davis bass player Dave Holland, explosive saxophonist Anthony Braxton and drummer Barry Altschul.
Return to Forever was something of a cultural and musical homecoming for Corea. He was initially influenced by his father, who was a jazz trumpeter and band leader, and he was later sent to a classical piano teacher in Boston called Salvatore Sullo.
Corea, who is of Italian-Spanish descent, was introduced to Latin music when, as a high school student, he began playing with a Portuguese bandleader and was drawn to the exuberance of Cuban and other Latin sounds.
The debut eponymous Return to Forever album met with great success, and that was quickly followed by Light as a Feather that featured one of Corea’s most enduring numbers, “Spain.” In its early years the band’s material tended towards the airy softer side, but when the personnel changed, particularly when heavyweight drummer Lenny White joined the fray, the energy level went up several notches and took on a more electric and electronic orientation. As Clarke plays both acoustic and electric bass, he was able to accommodate all the sonic departures that Return to Forever went through.
Over the last close to half-a-century, 73-year-old Corea has collaborated with a wide variety of artists, in all sorts of lineups, garnering close to 60 Grammy nominations and over 20 awards in the process. He has found time to indulge his classical tendencies over the years, and has played works by Bartók, Ravel and 20th century Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo, and spearheaded a voluminous project with the 75-piece London Philharmonic Orchestra, together with his own sextet. Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen is among Corea’s former cohorts and was a member of the pianist’s mid-’90s-early-’00s Origin band.
The confluence with Clarke is not Corea’s first experience of a duo setting, having performed extensively with vibraphonist Gary Burton, contemporary pianist and former Miles Davis band colleague Herbie Hancock and, more recently, with young Japanese pianist Hiromi. There have been well-received twosome gigs with banjo player Béla Bartók, and classical pianist Friedrich Gulda.
Meanwhile, Clarke has enjoyed extensive success with a host of fusion- and funk-oriented projects over the years, including with rock drummer Stewart Copeland who was a member of hit 1980s pop group Police along Sting. Other notable Clarke ventures include live work and recordings with the likes of keyboardist George Duke, bassist Miroslav Vitouš, drummer Billy Cobham and guitarist Al Di Meola. The latter’s bio features a stint with Return to Forever.
Clarke has notched up several Grammies of his own and he has also written a slew of TV and film scores. He and Corea have contributed to seven studio albums with Return to Forever, as well as three live recordings.
The long road Corea and Clarke have traveled together for the last 42 years, and their personal and professional empathy, will, no doubt, be evident in Herzliya and Shuni next week.
For tickets and more information: *9080, (03) 762-6666 and www.zappa-club.co.il.