Review Summary: No Mystery continues onward with the 'cosmic' jazz-funk sound of the previous albums, while occasionally exposing Chick Corea's growing fascination with classical music.
By 1975, we were steadily beginning to witness the apex of the jazz fusion movement. As the ideology of 'jazz-rock' became popularized in albums like Miles Davis' Bitches Brew
, the possibilities of blending jazz with practically any other genre in music became a growing trend in the following years. From the funk-oriented direction introduced in Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters
, to the symphonic grandeur explored in The Mahavishnu Orchestra's Apocalypse
, the early 1970s was certainly an exciting time for jazz music as we saw artists transform the genre into something far more abstract than the traditional elaborations of wind, keyboard, and percussive instruments. Return To Forever, though initially making their debut in the fashion of post-bop, began to embrace every trend that was prospering in the fusion scene. The group's fifth studio effort, No Mystery
, could very well be seen as a reflective collage of the various creative endeavors that their colleagues were getting themselves into at the time. No Mystery
is not only a further expansion on the progressive and funk elements that the group adopted in Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy
and Where Have I Known You Before
, but it also exposes a rather transitional period in sound as we begin to see Chick Corea unveiling his own fasciation with classical music.
The opening tracks like "Jungle Waterfall" and "Flight Of The Newborn" continue to showcase the group's funk-styled repertoire. Each piece is beautifully orchestrated, particularly "Flight Of The Newborn", which manages to display a formulated balance of emphatic melodies and technical soloing. As usual, the music is often directed by the intuitive synergy of guitarist Al Di Meola and keyboard guru Chick Corea, whose note and chord arrangements are usually drenched in excessive wah-wah garnishes so as to emphasize the intensity of the groove. One of the main things that you'll notice about this album is the lack of tedious impromptu assertions, a certain mannerism that acts such as Weather Report and The Mahavishnu Orchestra often fell victims to. There are no arid passages of long-winded, virtuosic soloing to be found here, only an immediate connection with the music at hand, as every clever scheme in the album is executed with dazzling precision in mind at all times. Take "Excerpt From The First Movement Of Heavy Metal" as an example, it's a rather eccentric piece and embodies layers of contrasting musical notions, and yet, it's surprisingly intriguing throughout. Chick Corea opens the piece with a dramatic piano sequence that echoes the classical stylings of musicians like Franz Liszt, rather than his own traditional jazz roots. Though what makes this piece such a peculiar one is how it drastically evolves in the midsection. Chick Corea's arrangement serves a guide that transitions us into a more raucous, progressive rock jam. This is where the other musicians get their time to shine. Al Di Meola leads the group with some sporadic guitar antics that appear as a cross between Jimi Hendrix's effect-ridden sound and John McLaughlin's fiery prowess. Bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White also do an exceptional job at magnifying the bombastic assault of the piece, stunningly complimenting each other in the background and constructing a formidable collective embellishment.
Chick Corea's classically-styled intro/outro solos in "Excerpt From The First Movement Of Heavy Metal" serve to foreshadow the new concepts that are explored in the middle section of No Mystery
. The medley between the eponymous track and its accompanying number, "Interplay", is the only moment in the album that truly emanates a classical aesthetic. Exclusively composed under an all acoustic set, and incorporating an arrangement of bowed-strings, as well as Al Di Meola's rapid, latin-tinged guitar-playing, "No Mystery"/"Interplay" is one of the most emotive, and dynamic performances in the entire album. It's interesting to see Return To Forever venturing in this direction because it gives us an early look of the route these musicians would soon embark on. It goes without saying that the classical influences are not as prominent here, and won't really come into fruition until the upcoming solo works of Chick Corea, particularly My Spanish Heart
. Nevertheless, it is interesting see these guys questioning their own creative aspirations, and taking their music to new and unfamiliar dimensions. Though as invigorating as all of these mentioned concepts and sounds from the album may be, because of course Return To Forever always save the best for last, none are anywhere near as breathtaking as their 'back-to-basics', epic conclusion. Following in the tradition established by Light As A Feather
's "Spain" and Where Have I Known You Before
's "Song to the Pharaoh Kings", "Celebration Suite" ends No Mystery
with a performance that exhibits enough energy and dexterity to keep the listener at the edge of their seat. From Chick Corea's dulcetly, Spanish-accented melodic theme, to the 'progged-out' spectacles of incendiary musicianship from the entire band, "Celebration Suite" is full of dynamic surprises and innovative marvel.
Looking at everything No Mystery
presents within its near 43 minute run, it signifies both the end of Return To Forever's funkier motives, and the introduction of a far more progressive state of mind. The classical elements of this album don't necessarily have a prominent reprise in the upcoming Romantic Warrior
, but the idea of branching out to new possibilites is felt just as intimately. It's never been a mystery of any kind that Return To Forever were sincere fans of progressive rock, and though that influence was certainly present in the prior albums, No Mystery
marks the era in which the group further deviates from the ethos of jazz and adopts the symphonic instrumentation that bands like King Crimson and Yes were promoting at the time. And yet, even as No Mystery
introduces a far more elaborate plot than the previous two 'electric' albums, going further beyond the space-rock patterns and funky textures, it doesn't impose any major renovations in Return To Forever's sound. This is just a foreshadow of what's coming, not the revolution itself. As entertainment value goes, No Mystery
is not only one of the group's most enjoyable albums, but also a revered effort in the entire jazz fusion catalogue. It certainly showcases its share of dextrous technical movements, but the music is arranged in a fashion that always emphasizes on instant accessibility.