• SoundStage! Shorts - How Hegel's SoundEngine Works (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight  - Estelon History and YB and Extreme Loudspeakers (September 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - What Makes Hegel Different? (August 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Estelon Extreme Legacy Edition Loudspeaker (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion Overview and Technologies (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! Insight - Totem Acoustic Signature One Loudspeaker (June 2017)
  • SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh MC275 Stereo Amplifier (June 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh History and Autoformer Technology (June 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - NAD Viso HP50 Headphones (May 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - GoldenEar Technology's Anechoic Chamber (May 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - PSB's M4U 4 Earphones (April 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - GoldenEar Technology's Triton Two+ and Three+ Loudspeakers (March 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- KEF's LS50 (February 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Monitor Audio's Platinum II Series (January 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Pryma 0|1 Headphones (December 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- KEF's Blade Two Loudspeaker (November 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- KEF and the Uni-Q (October 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Monitor Audio Acoustics & Aesthetics (August 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- PSB's Imagine T3 Loudspeaker (June 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Hegel's H160 Integrated Amplifier-DAC (April 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- MartinLogan's Neolith Loudspeaker (February 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Prestige Series (December 2014)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Vivid Audio's Giya Series (October 2014)

The Mothership ReturnsEagle ER202572
Format: CD, DVD

Musical Performance ****1/2
Sound Quality ***1/2
Picture Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

 

Return to Forever, the jazz-rock fusion group Chick Corea established in 1972, has been through several personnel changes over the last 40 years, but its most popular lineup featured Corea on various keyboards, Al Di Meola on guitar, Stanley Clarke on bass, and Lenny White on drums. That group folded in 1976, but reunited in 2008 for a tour and a live two-CD set, Returns. In 2011, Corea, Clarke, and White formed what they’re calling Return to Forever IV, with guitarist Frank Gambale and the venerable French jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty. The Mothership Returns is a three-disc set (two CDs, one DVD) culled from the group’s 2011 tour.

The CD booklet includes a brief note from Metallica’s current bassist, Robert Trujillo, who recalls running into many of the same people at metal shows and Return to Forever concerts in the early 1980s. "RTF was that musical bridge," he writes. I can understand what metal fans might like about a loud, fast, chops-heavy fusion band. This version of RTF retains the skills and the quirky time signatures that were the earlier group’s trademarks, but it’s lighter on its feet -- it actually swings. Gambale, who toured with Ponty in 1986 before a long stint with Corea’s Elektric Band, is a more organized guitarist than Di Meola, and leaves more breathing room in the music.

Ponty brings considerable skills to RTF, along with one of his compositions from the mid-’70s, "Renaissance." They give the tune a 20-minute workout, but it never meanders, and Ponty’s melodies are at the center of the improvisations. He gives "Medieval Overture" emotional and melodic focus; it’s less frantic than the original version, on Romantic Warrior (1976). With Di Meola, RTF was a driven band, and the musicians often scrambled over each other. Here they’re more responsive and more cohesive as a band, as well as more nuanced. Lenny White’s "The Shadow of Lo," paired in this performance with his "Sorceress," highlights the beauty of the melody, which was somewhat subverted by the distortion on Al Di Meola’s guitar in the original recording, on Where Have I Known You Before (1974).

White has moments on The Mothership Returns where the sheer power of his playing is breathtaking, and he swings harder and maintains a more solid groove than in the past. Corea has sometimes been a coldly impressive technical player, but recently he’s opened himself up emotionally, and added tremendous depth and beauty to his work. Clarke is reliably funky and driving, and his double-bass solo in "Renaissance" is a highlight. Gambale is quick but never loses sight of the melody, and his chording behind the other players is sensitive and responsive.

The engineering of The Mothership Returns captures the band’s majestic power, and especially of White’s drums, but I wish it conveyed a better sense of the halls in which it was recorded. However, individual instruments, especially Corea’s array of keyboards, come across well, and Greg Calbi’s mastering gives the disc a coherent feel. The DVD includes a documentary about the songs, two lengthy performances in stereo and 5.1-channel surround, and a trailer for an upcoming film about the band. Longtime fans of Return to Forever may find that the current lineup lacks some of the sheer brute force of the mid-’70s group, but there’s nothing lightweight about Return to Forever IV. This mothership takes flight.

. . . Joseph Taylor
josepht@soundstagenetwork.com