A powerhouse of Fusion Rock Jazz Funk brilliance, this is my favourite album from RTF, the other being "No Mystery". When they let it rip they really do let it rip, great stuff from a great band, the only thing I didn't like about them was the (in my opinion) stupid name! "Return To Forever". Also the name of this album sounds like they nicked it from Hawkwind.
Firstly, let me clarify that this is a million times better than most of the pap in the charts, but to me this album represents an important historical document in the development of fusion and Chick Corea's career. Compared to Romantic Warrior, considered the peak of RTF's career, there is a marked difference in style. The high gloss mixture of Corea's synthesizers, DiMeola's ultra fast licks and Clarke's Alembic basses has not appeared and instead Bill Connors's more sparse but highly tasteful guitar work, Corea's jazz-rock selection of Hammond and Rhodes and Clarke's Gibson EB-3 bass (horribly fuzzed up for some solos) contrast with the one consistent feature of both classic albums, Lenny White's busy but effective drumming style. The compositions are more jazz than fusion, with Corea adapting his latin standard 'Senor Mouse' for this more 'rock' arrangement and 'Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy' stands as the only track which anticipates the fusion feel of 'Romantic Warrior'. So, if you're looking for a post-miles and mahavishnu electric jazz album, this comes reccomended.
A massive five stars for this iconic album - I bought it in Oxford when it first came out in '73, and I just couldn't take it off the turntable for weeks. And when I listen to it now, exactly 40 years on, and especially to Bill Connors' magnificent guitar work, I still get goose-bumps all over - for me it's only eclipsed by Mahavishnu's 'Inner Mounting Flame': both albums have a transpersonal/spiritual timelessness, but for me, IMF's 'raging' beauty and aggressive urgency just pips HSG's spacey 'majestic' beauty. But if you want a seminal intro to the early hunger, searching and extraordinary virtuosity that 1970s jazz-rock at its best represented, these two albums are definitively the place to start (and having been moved to the core by their matchless magnificence, you may well just 'stick' and not need to quest any further. Richard House
RTF fans can be split into those who tell you "Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy" is the band's best album, and those who say "Romantic Warrior" is. I'm with the former. In fact, with both albums next to each other on the shelf, 19 times out of 20, "Hymn" gets played in my home. Why? "Hymn" is far more timeless and jazz rock oriented and give little surprise when often included in the all time top ten jazz rock recordings; "Warrior" might be considered RFT's prog album. And asa footnote: Stan Getz' does an alternative take of "Captain Senor Mouse" off "Hymn", but I couldn't imagine him contemplated anything from "Warrior". With "Hymn" RTF were a leaner and hungrier band, at the start of their jazz rock career, and at their most inventive wrt compositions and arrangements. With "Warrior" RTF were growing slack with success and at the time of its original release I was asking myself: haven't I heard this sort of thing before? Okay the production on "Warrior" is better and Chick Corea probably had more keyboards. Rumours flew at the time of original release of "Warrior", that Stanley Clarke was heavily into Chris Squire's playing, and the album was recorded next door to the studio in which Yes were recording....... and so on. Clarke was not far away from releasing his own album aimed squarely at the rock market ("Rock Pebbles & Sand"), Corea could occasionally be heard dabbling with rock outside RTF (for a taster, check out his guest appearance on Rick Derringer's album "Spring Fever", doing the keys on "Rock" - and even now the jazz piano master, was seen at the '04 Grammy ceremony playing with the FooFighters). Jazz rock fans now argue who was the better guitarist for RTF: Bill Connors or his replacement Al DiMeola? DiMeola is said to be the fast, somehat clinical chop-player and Connors the most emotional jazz rock guitarist - each in their ways excellent players but representing different stages of RTF's career. "Hymn" wins in my mind, partly because it is was recorded in the early seventies, when jazz rock still was in its relative infancy, and the band was clearly bursting with startling ideas. "Romantic Warrior", however, appeared towards the end of the 70's, when ideas in jazz rock were growing markedly stale and the record companies were selling 'product' to a market rather than 'art. Romantic Warrior" while a good album, has dated more rapidly, having an element of gloss with less depth.
I was lucky to see this Return to Forever lineup at Leeds University in 1974 and it remains etched on my mind unlike many later gigs of lesser bands. In those days before Pastorius really hit the scene as far as we Northern working class kids were concerned, Stanley Clarke was the bassist to watch as he stood, tall and almost motionless with his alembic bass. Lenny White was a fabulous drummer in the genre, but for me as a guitarist, Bill Connors was the man I went to see.
He was obviously extremely uncomfortable on stage and could be seen wiping his hands much of the time. His solos were beautiful of course as they are on this record. I think few guitarists (Di Meola certainly couldn't) could match his combination of rock style going for it with supreme good taste and technical ability. Connors didn't last long of course and for me RTF was never the same band, becoming a bloated behemoth in comparison thanks to the narcissistic and self indulgent noodlings of DiMeola.
The news came out that when Connors joined he felt honoured to be in the company of Chick Corea, not long before one of the Young Turks of jazz piano, a wonderful soloist and composer of course. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Corea tended to keep his electric and his acoustic endeavours separate; what he wanted from Connors was rock emotionality, but what Connors wanted was to explore his jazz side. For that reason alone, the lineup was bound to fail, but for the short time that it was in existence,it was a true trailblazer of a band.
Connors gave up playing electric guitar for several years and took up classical. He has many solo albums to his credit, but despite his fingerstyle approach, in sound nowadays he reminds me rather of Holdsworth. I still imagine that he might resume the wonderfully poised playing of those long distant days but I don't hold out too much hope.
One of the things that stuck in my mind as a 23 year old was the fact that Corea's band appealed both to the older guys who were bopping along with the rest of us. Obviously they had been listening to him for much longer than we had, but they seemed to have no difficulty accepting his crossover band. Like that gig, the songs on this album are exquisite, the musicianship and control of dynamics is sensational. This is one hell of an album- perhaps a little dated now, but nowhere near as much as many of its contemporaries. One of my Desert Island choices.
I was fortunate to see RTF in Glasgow at the time this album was released and most of the material on it was played at the gig so it was intreresting to compare the live and studio versions. I had heard a lot about Chic Corea but was most impressed by Stanley Clark who was not known to me before. His bass playng (both electric and accoustic) was one of the highlights of the concert. I bought the vinyl version at the gig but now prefer to cd version I picked up some years ago. It is an album I continue to play on a regular basis and still enjoy.