During the triumphant Return To Forever reunion tour of 2008 there was a segment of the show where electric guitar hero Al Di Meola would leave the stage, allowing Chick Corea, bassist Stanley Clarke, and drummer Lenny White to explore their chemistry in an intimate all-acoustic trio setting. Actually, this combination harkened back to a week-long engagement in 1973 that Corea, Clarke, and White had at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco. The three RTF bandmates apparently enjoyed their acoustic piano trio segment on that 2008 tour so much that they booked fifty dates for a 2009 worldwide tour, where they performed jazz standards and tunes from the songbooks of Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, and Miles Davis. The material on the first of this potent two-CD set is culled from that whirlwind piano trio tour.
The three empathetic musicians come out swinging hard on the uptempo opener, “On Green Dolphin Street.” Their highly interactive take on this oft-covered Branislaw Kaper tune is alternately underscored by White’s brisk brushwork and insistent ride-cymbal pulse in combination with Clarke’s humungous upright bass tones. Corea sprinkles rapid- fire right-hand lines over the top while deftly reharmonizing chords with the left as Clarke contributes a signature fleet-fingered bass solo to elevate the proceedings.
Corea’s “Bud Powell,” a buoyantly swinging midtempo homage to the great bop pianist, has the three reveling in the idiom with a swagger in their step; their gentle interpretations of Bill Evans’ “Waltz for Debby” and Clarke’s hymn- like “La Cancion de Sofia” reveal a more sensitive side. They tackle the angular Monk tune “Hackensack” with urgency and playful abandon, then deliver bracing trio renditions of “No Mystery,” title track of RTF’s Grammy-winning 1975 album, and the explosive “Senor Mouse” from Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy. Clarke’s virtuosic slap-bass solo on the upright is a show-stopper on the latter piece. Their delicate rendering of Corea’s luminous “Windows,” originally written in 1966, is another highlight on this trio disc.
Disc 2, recorded at Mad Hatter Studios in Los Angeles, is essentially a rehearsal for RTF’s 2009 gala appearance at the Hollywood Bowl with the core trio augmented by guitarist Bill Connors, violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, and vocalist Chaka Khan. Connors, who lit up Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy 36 years earlier with his blazing, distortion-laced lines, provides that same incendiary punch here on updated renditions of material from that landmark recording, including Corea’s “Senor Mouse” and funky “Space Circus” along with Clarke’s “After the Cosmic Rain,” all powered by White’s muscular drumming and Clarke’s grooving-popping electric bass lines. Ponty joins Corea and Clarke for a lively trio rendition of “Armando’s Rhumba,” a tune from Corea’s 1976 outing My Spanish Heart which Ponty had originally played on. Khan scats freely on “High Wire—The Aerialist,” a piece she recorded with Corea, Clarke, and White in 1982, then delivers a dramatic Sarah Vaughan-influenced reading of George and Ira Gershwin’s “I Loves You Porgy.” CD 2 closes with a spirited rendition of “500 Miles High” (from 1972’s classic Light As A Feather) recorded live by the Corea, Clarke, and White acoustic trio at the 2009 Monterey Jazz Festival. Sparks fly throughout this scintillating set.