JazzTimes: “One of the Best Shows I Have Ever Seen”

June 28, 2011

Frank Gambale with Return to Forever IV in OttawaTOUR UPDATE: The acclaimed Return to Forever IV tour has 4 shows under its belt and has moved into Europe before they head back to the states—at which point Zappa Plays Zappa joins the marquee.

Here’s a field report from Russ Davis, 20+ year jazz radio broadcaster and JazzTimes correspondent:

As for the very first performance I took in at the 32nd edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, the sold out show by Return to Forever IV in the festival’s largest venue, the 3,000 seat Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, I couldn’t have found a flaw if you had held a gun to my head. If there were mistakes I couldn’t hear them as I was under the spell of the majesty of this music and power of the incredible musicianship of Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White, Jean-Luc Ponty and Frank Gambale. From the first notes of “Medieval Overture” to the last note of the encore “School Days” … yes … “SCHOOL DAYS” … I continued to say to myself, “Now THIS is what I’m talking about…THIS is ELECTRIC JAZZ at its very highest level!” There may be others who have made MOJA like this but none better, ever!

I’ve seen many shows in my years on this planet, but none I enjoyed more than this.”

Stanley Clarke and Jean-Luc Ponty with Return to Forever IV live in TorontoAfter having seen the 2008 “Return To Forever Returns” tour with Chick, Stanley, Lenny and Al Di Meola I remembered how excited the crowd was at the two shows I attended and how satisfying the experience was, but this was something more, and as I reflect now on what made it so I come back to the same point, the added attraction of Jean-Luc Ponty and his incredible contribution on violin! As our fellow MOJAN, Bruce Raff, who just happens to be attending the entire festival on his first trip to Montreal said to me when I asked him for his comments about the show:

”Beyond Belief! I had huge expectations for the show and it was even more than that. One of my biggest was to see Jean-Luc Ponty for the first time. It was already awesome to see the world’s greatest fusion band, but to add to that another of the world’s greatest fusion pioneers, as well as greatest violin player, made this one of the best shows I have ever seen!”

Bruce and I had lunch the day after to debrief once more and we both concur that Jean-Luc was the added spice to make this the perfect gumbo! We also agreed that the versatile guitarist from Australia, Frank Gambale, was brilliant and could have used more of the spotlight. Considering the talent on the stage you can understand why there just wasn’t enough to go around and honestly I think the “band” was the star on this evening though there were certainly moments of individual brilliance too numerous to mention.

Chick Corea with Return to Forever IV live in SyracuseEven RTF classics like “Senor Mouse” and “Shadow Of Lo” were taken to new places as quite often pieces would morph out of their original form into passages of funk, to classical, to straight ahead, to rock-jazz and back again, and the guys were obviously having great fun. There was a childlike attitude pouring from the stage as the players congratulated one another after each song like kids high-fiving on the basketball court. (BTW … after the show backstage, Stanley, RFT manager Bill Rooney and I challenged all comers to a 3-on-3 basketball game but could get no takers!)

Back to the show … Chick is on his game as much as he has EVER been with a youthful energy I haven’t seen in him in years. He is obviously having a blast and he and Jean-Luc had a special, very spiritual exchange as they occupied stage right while Frank and Lenny seemed especially in sync on stage left. In the middle, like the mountain that he is, stood Stanley Clarke on electric bass for the first set and both electric and acoustic for set two. Stanley had been awarded “The Miles Davis Award” on stage just before the show began. The award has been given by the festival each year since 1994, when John McLaughlin became the first recipient, to celebrate the entire career of an international jazz artist and their special contribution to the advancement of jazz. As they say where I come from, “Yeah, you know you right!”

Jean-Luc Ponty with Return to Forever IV live in OttawaLenny stopped the show for a minute to remark that he and Jean-Luc had never played together before, that he was really thrilled to be doing that now with RTF4 and that he just wanted to let Jean-Luc know that in front of everyone. They shared a “man-hug” on the spot to the delight of the crowd.

Later in the show Jean-Luc took the mic to say much the same and since he was in Quebec he could say it in French as well as English. The performance of his contribution to the CD Forever titled “Renaissance” was a true show-stopper, bringing the crowd to its feet in mid-show, and one of the peaks of the entire night.

Back to my original point … Jean-Luc is the wild card in this band and though each member is brilliant and essential, his contribution is what makes this group magic beyond a doubt! When Frank Gambale and Stanley moved to center stage together to begin the encore they had a purposeful resolve in their faces and that purpose was to ROCK! They kicked off the classic “School Days” and RTF IV joined in as the machine they have become to finish off the night with a roar! I’ve seen many shows in my years on this planet but none I enjoyed more than this. See this show … get the album Forever … you will do yourself a favor as you give yourself the gift of history!

Beyond belief! I had huge expectations for the show and it was even more than that.”

The performance of his [Ponty] contribution to the CD Forever titled “Renaissance” was a true show-stopper, bringing the crowd to its feet in mid-show, and one of the peaks of the entire night.”

See this show…get the album Forever…you will do yourself a favor as you give yourself the gift of history!”

Read more from Russ Davis at MoJa Radio, where he broadcasts a truly fantastic modern jazz internet radio channel.

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