Return to Forever at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center

I literally wore out my first copy of “Where Have I Known You Before” and had to buy another one, so I was thrilled to see that Return to Forever was touring with the original line up, for the first time in a quarter century. Even better, they were the headliners for the Saratoga <brand name of the year> Jazz Festival, which is a short drive from home.

The Saratoga Performing arts center is a large covered amphitheater, with additional lawn seating and lots of room elsewhere for tents, tarps, concessions, etc. I went for a seat inside the amphitheater which not only gave me a good view of the stage, but was good protection from the short but heavy storms that punctuated the day.

There was a gazebo set up in a different part of the park, far enough away that the sound from the amphitheater didn’t interfere with the music there. When it wasn’t raining I’d wander around the place, heading in the general direction of either the amphitheater or the gazebo, and sit and listen when the music grabbed me.

Which it usually did. There were exceptions, of course. The Saxophone Summit, featuring Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman & Ravi Coltrane, turned out to be NJS (Nauseating Jazz Stuff – with everyone going in entirely different directions, paying no attention to each other), but no problem – I went to the gazebo and listened to someone else. Saw some incredible musicians and ate some concession food, and finally, at the end of the day, took my seat for RTF.

The place wasn’t sold out, and during the day people came and went for different shows. One couple, who I’d exchanged pleasantries with earlier, asked if I knew anything about the upcoming group. I gave them a brief rundown of their history, how they were all incredible musicians and how much they influenced and led the fusion movement. I told them they were about to see a once in a lifetime show, and were in for a real treat.

The band came out and opened with Vulcan Worlds, playing fast and tight and filling the place with their music. After their second song I turned to the couple, intending to ask how they were enjoying it. They were getting up to leave. To the uninitiated RTF can sound like NJS.

They spent about a third of the show doing solos. Stanley Clarke is still a wild man on the bass. Al Di Meola plays so fast, flawlessly, and melodically he hardly seems human. And Chick and Lenny aren’t too bad either. (Understatement of the year.) And while the solos were a treat, I really came to hear the band, and wish they spent more time playing together.

Because they did their 90 minutes, and that was it. They left the stage, and the house lights came up. Everyone was yelling for an encore. They waited, and waited, and then walked out on stage. And waved to the audience, and bent over and shook hands with a few people at the front of the stage, and left again.

Come on, guys, that was a cheesy and low class. We waited twenty five years to see you play together again. The least you could have done was played an encore.

But what they did play was amazing. If you’ve never heard them before, check out some of their performances here.


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