(All Album Reviews by Burgess Penguin)
Another raw, uncompromising fusion classic that still sounds wonderfully fresh now, some 30 years after it was unleashed on an unsuspecting public.
I’m sure this outing dropped some jaws in its day, especially considering that the 2 previous RTF discs (Return to Forever, Light As A Feather) were steeped in airy Brazilian jazz-samba sensibilities. Here, Chick Corea and his trusty bassist Stanley Clarke (just returning to electric bass) would change their whole sound and direction, adding in heavy rock and more orchestrated ensemble playing. An early lineup (which included drummer Steve Gadd, percussionist Mingo Lewis and guitarist Earl Klugh) gave way to the scorching lineup of Corea, Clarke, drummer Lenny White and a young unknown guitarist in the person of Bill Connors. Chick and Stanley’s new musings were well served by the 2 new members. Lenny White’s drumming combined the best aspects of a great jazz drummer, the ferocious power of a rocker and the funkiness of Clyde Stubblefield (James Brown) or Bernard Purdie. Bill Connors bought to the table a yearning to combine John Coltrane and Cream-period Eric Clapton into a unique musical voice. The new band was NEVER shy about flexing its musical muscles or taking chances right and left.
The opening title cut makes it screamingly clear that this was a band of great musical minds to be reckoned with, highlighted by tight ensemble passages and reckless abandon working together in amazing ways. The song has a very endearing hanging on for dear life quality to it. “After The Cosmic Rain” gives bassist Stanley Clarke a chance to shine with thick fuzzy propulsive bass lines and a nasty, snarly solo, not unlike a more manic Jack Bruce (in fact, Stanley used the same bass as Jack, a Gibson EB-3, famous for its fuzzy somewhat muddy sound. Shortly after these recordings, Stanley would trade it in for the crisp, crackling Alembic sound that would become his stock in trade.)
“Captain Señor Mouse” is a classic Corea musing featuring a manic and beautiful flamenco-inspired melody line and a dizzying variety of time changes, plus crafty use of exaggerated dynamics and tight, passionate ensemble work from everybody. “Theme To The Mothership” by stark contrast is a more open-ended full-throttle piece, giving Bill Connors a chance to unleash a soaring melodic solo, beginning with thick slicing sustained notes and gradually building to a barely controlled fury before miraculously landing right on the next ensemble passage. After this, Corea lets forth a brilliant ring-modulated Fender Rhodes solo that would have been right at home on a Soft Machine or Hatfield and the North disc.
“Space Circus” begins with low-key child-like whimsy before charging into a full-on funk workout, with everybody trading off searing phrases like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frasier in the ring. “The Gamemaker” sneaks up on you with a mysterious series of organ chords and Corea gently musing over the top of it gradually morphing into a repeating keyboard figure that frames the piece that the band picks up on and adds momentum to. From that point, Corea and Connors engage in a duel to the death, beating each other creatively silly as Clarke and White drive it along at a furious pace, leading to a nail-biting unison-passage ending.
This is a disc that will leave you exhausted in a wonderful way, kind of like a good downhill ski run or roller coaster ride. This is tightly played and orchestrated fusion at its boldest, rawest and uncompromising for its time. While subsequent RTF albums were more refined, and guitarist Al DiMeola may have been a superior technician/chopsmeister, Bill Connors just had a raw soulfulness and passionate abandon that DiMeola could never get close to (plus I happen to LOVE that thick, slicing tone of Bill’s). The album’s raw, in-your-face production just adds to the charm of hearing a new band flexing its musical muscles and breaking new ground.