Wednesday, June 04, 2008

RTF v.3.0

With Return To Forever's vaunted reunion tour now in full swing – it kicked off last week in Texas and winds through the summer until early August – I've been thinking about a quirk I have about original lineups. It's no surprise that I like the original configuration of The Mahavishnu Orchestra best (does anyone prefer one of the latter versions?), but I also have a preference for the first incarnation of Weather Report, Genesis, The Allman Brothers Band, The E Street Band (okay, maybe not "Mad Dog" Vinny Lopez) and the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

I deviate a little from this pattern with RTF, but only if you're one of those who consider the Flora Purim, Airto Moreira, Joe Farrell band RTF. (Their acoustic basis and heavy Brazilian influence make them a whole other category than what followed, once Lenny White and Bill Connors came along.) For me, Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy ranks with The Inner Mounting Flame, Sweetnighter and Head Hunters as an album that defined the fusion genre in the early '70s. Al DiMeola has just never really done it for me, though one of his later recordings – Orange And Blue – is pretty fine.

A few years ago, I got a chance to interview Connors, then 55. I was always curious about why he decided to drop out of RTF after his exceptional work on Hymn and Stanley Clarke's solo debut.

Looking back at his decision, Connors was at a loss to explain it, despite many rumours that Corea's Scientology devotion or leadership manner were at the root. "Maybe I should've just taken a few days off. It (his decision to quit) was a little rash."

He didn't seem like a man to harbour regrets. After all, he's had a full career of recording (including some great work for ECM) and teaching. Still, he also said this: "It hurt when people would tell me that I must've listened to a lot of Al DiMeola. I was robbed of my identity... (it was like) my guitar was a credit card that had been stolen and I'd been left to pay the bill."

While some people I've talked to have expressed regrets that Moreira and Purim aren't involved in this summer's RTF reunion, I'm wishing that Chick had invited Connors along for the ride.

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