The guitar seat in Return to Forever is a luminous position historically held by the likes of Al Di Meola and Frank Gambale. But the group’s original guitarist was the great Bill Connors, shown here on German television in a lengthy workout on the RTF classic “After the Cosmic Rain.”

As sometimes happens, I found myself witnessing several unique musical moments this week. Friday, 08.26, I had the privilege of seeing Zappa Plays Zappa opening for Return to Forever at Kansas City’s historic Midland Theater. ZPZ was stunning, as usual, rolling out highlights like “Po-Jama People,” “Willie the Pimp,” “Big Swifty” and “King Kong,” which featured a jaw-dropping duel between Dweezil Zappa and special guest Chick Corea. Though Dweezil is clearly the featured soloist, second guitarist Jamie Kime also displayed stellar style, technique and tone during his one and only lead break. I ran into him outside the venue after the show and said I wished there would’ve been more. His response: “I wish I could’ve given you more.” Indeed.

Dweezil et al.

Headliners Return to Forever played a complex and elegant set packed with the dazzling virtuosity you’d expect. The reunited version of the band features legacy members Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White, plus formidable additions violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and guitarist Frank Gambale. Aside from stunning solos, that pair also delivered intricate unison lines that decorated the serpentine compositions. Dreamy stuff.

Gambale. Hatted.

I had the great fortune of possessing a “meet & greet” pass for this show. These sessions are usually enjoyable, if brief. What I didn’t expect was that those of us with said passes would be permitted to watch the final three songs of the RTF set from the wings of stage right. Standing ten feet away from Chick Corea playing grand piano, looking across the stage into the watchful gaze of Lenny White was very powerful. Afterward, four of the the fusion legends (Ponty was not in attendance) were exceedingly gracious with their time. It was one for the books, I tell ya.

Matchless

Sunday, 08.28, I took in a performance by country baritone and heartthrob Josh Turner … at a convention of veterinary professionals. Eh, it’s a long story. Anyway, I didn’t catch his current touring guitarist’s name and for the life of me can’t track down on the web (I’ve scoured every page—does anyone know it?), but he was very handy with a Telecaster and was playing through the sweet amp above.

Weird weekend.

Following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Bill Connors and Al Di Meola, Frank Gambale has assumed the guitar chair in Return To Forever. Would the fusion virtuoso have passed up the opportunity to play alongside Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White and Jean Luc Ponty? According to the Sydney Morning Herald:

I couldn’t turn it down. I’d be insane. It’s going to be a wonderful year of incredible gigs.

Gambale, of course, was Corea’s longtime foil in the keyboardist’s Elektric Band. Check out some amazing footage of the that group right here.

And read more on Gambale’s current state of affairs at Gibson’s website, right here.

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