Review Summary: Funky, explosive, and at times, even mildly psychedelic. 'Where Have I Seen You Before' explores all of the different dimensions of Jazz Fusion to create a truly mesmerizing performance.
They say that a true artist is never satisfied with who they are, or their accomplishments. Often looking into the beyond distances of time and envisioning their next creative endeavor, completely infatuated with the ecstasy of creation and discovery. And so they search within themselves and the world around them for inspiration, in the hopes of realizing what it is that they want their canvas to be. And it isn't enough for a work of art to merely be good, it has to be unique. It has to captivate attention and stimulate an overwhelming sense of intrigue upon the observer. And the only way that one can accomplish that is by exploring what is unknown and embracing new ideals to broaden their imagination. This is how Jazz Fusion was invented. It's a genre comprised of musicians who felt that the traditional methods of Jazz, with its basic usage of wind and percussive instruments, were not enough to properly conceptualize the sounds in their mind. Their art required a wider range of devices, so they combined genres and introduced new instruments, while giving Jazz music a whole new experimental perspective.
Return To Forever's first two albums, Return To Forever
and Light As A Feather
, are at times considered Post-bop albums because they didn't really incorporate enough "fusion" in their Jazz. Though the albums featured the usage of electric instruments in their music, they never really dwelled into the rock or funk embellished styles that were already being devised by acts like The Mahavishnu Orchestra and The Weather Report. And it wasn't until their third album, Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy
, that we really got to see Return To Forever evolving into something far more dimensional than a modernized style of bebop. Their whole musical approach had been renovated with disorienting psychedelic ornaments, prominent guitar playing, and excessive usage of wah-wah effects. It was certainly a radical change, but not at all surprising. This was Return To Forever finally embracing the trends of their time, and following upon the direction that all of their peers were heading towards. It's honestly quite admirable to see Return To Forever dwelling into new and uncertain paths, because it shows that this is a group who would rather expand their musical potential than to remain safe in their comfort zone. This was a new era in Jazz, a bold one that completely discarded away all old habits, and welcomed any sense of experimentation. And now that Return To Forever have assimilated into this new Jazz Fusion scene, all that awaits them are grand opportunities to innovate their art.
Where Have I Known You Before
is a further expansion on the rock influences of its predecessor, and immediately as "Vulcan Worlds"
opens up the album, it's plain to see that not too much has changed in their repertoire. Chick Corea sets the tone with some subtle piano notes, while bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White begin to establish the rhythmic framework behind him. And it isn't long before cosmic sound waves begin to float into our perception to add a sense of galactic wonder to the music. The amalgamation of funky guitar rhythms and psychedelic soundscapes is a much more prominent musical theme throughout the performance in Where Have I Known You Before
. And though this may not be anything groundbreaking at this point in Jazz Fusion, Return To Forever's particular depiction of this style is rather unique in its own way. There is a conspicuous influence throughout Where Have I Known You Before
that tends to reflect the techniques found in albums like Miles Davis' Agharta
and even that of George Clinton's in Parliament and Funkadelic. But because each musician in the group deploys a very distinct style of playing with their respective instruments, the album exudes a much more organic sound rather than presenting itself like an imitation.
The most impressive characteristic in Return To Forever's music has always been the remarkable musicianship that each member brings to the table. And though Chick Corea's elegant keyboard flaunts and synthesizer flourishes tend to take up most of the spotlight, there is a lot of phenomenal instrumental maneuvering happening in the background. If there is any other musician to ogle over in a Return To Forever performance, it's Stanley Clarke. His feel for the bass is just mind-blowing. "Vulcan Worlds"
is perhaps his finest moment in the album because we really get to see his talents. Near the end of the song we see him executing some very complex and improvised notes, while not only complementing the melodic structure of the song, but doing so with utterly stunning agility and adroitness. Another musician to really keep a close observation on is the prodigious wonder of his time, guitarist Al Di Meola. Merely at age 20 during the recording sessions for this album, but he's already begun to make a name for himself. For most of the performance we find Al Di Meola working to augment the melodic flow with some funked out grooves, but in "The Shadow of Lo"
we really get to see the musician take control of the entirety of the song. Chick Corea opens up with an ethereal keyboard introduction, and the other instruments soon enter into the scenery and help direct the song into a very delicate atmosphere. Throughout most of "The Shadow of Lo"
we find Chick Corea and Al Di Meola complementing each others solos while emphasizing to induce a mellow vibe. But then, almost without warning, the song accelerates into an exuberant jam. And it's in this setting that we really get to see what Al Di Meola is made of, who vacillates his guitar work from agile soloing to wah-wah decorated expressions.
As usual, Return To Forever save their finest piece for last, and this time we are treated to the magnificent opus, "Song to the Pharaoh Kings"
. Yet again, Chick Corea vitalizes the music with some entrancing synthesizer movements that are rather subtle with their statements, establishing a gentle mood to allure the listener before revealing a mesmerizing display of musical ecstasy. And from this enchanting and delicate setting we enter into the core essence of the piece. The music evolves into a very invigorating, yet focused jam. "Song to the Pharaoh Kings"
is a constant ascension, growing much more dynamic and explosive with every passing second, like an ignited flame that slowly intensifies into an eruptive bedlam. Overall, Where Have I Known You Before
is a rather momentous effort by Return To Forever and an accomplished successor to Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy
. It's astounding to think how much this band has deviated from its traditional Jazz roots, in fact, there are no wind instruments of any kind featured in this album. But the most eminent aspect of it all is seeing how natural Return To Forever is able to sound through such a drastic transition in sound, it's as if they've always sounded this way, like it's nothing new at all. Aside from the eponymously named interludes, which despite their modest intrigue seem to serve no further purpose but to stall time, Where Have I Known You Before
is an album filled with various captivating moments. There's a lot to be experienced here, so many genres and styles amalgamated to create an enthralling spectacle of music. This is definitely a fine addition to Jazz Fusion, and an album that would prove to be highly influential for many future acts to come.