Over the course of its two CDs and single DVD‚ The Mothership Returns contains fifteen performances and remarkably subdued ones at that. In contrast to the somewhat bombastic reunion shows of 2008‚ the sound of RTF4‚ including keyboardist Chick Corea‚ bassist Stanley Clarke‚ drummer Lenny White as well as violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and electric guitarist Frank Gamabale‚ is streamlined and understated‚ listenable for the clarity of the recording in itself‚ almost as much as for this new alignment of musicians‚ all of whom position themselves with finesse in the ensemble as well as in the spontaneity of the moment.
Though it wouldn't appear to be the case‚ at least on the surface‚ this quintet is both a natural evolution and return to roots for this band. The simplicity Corea aimed for in his original conception becomes evident in "Spain‚" despite the precious call and response with the audience. It follows closely on the heels of Corea‚ Clarke and White's largely acoustic foray documented on Forever (Concord‚ 2011)‚ itself hearkening back to their earliest collaborations‚ a retrenchment in the wake of the aforementioned much-ballyhooed reunion including guitarist Al Di Meola.
Though the extensive (to a fault?) essays of reminiscence and gratitude within the twenty-four page booklet reference the various touchpoints within the history of Return to Forever‚ the prose is but a reflection of a selection of material from across the band's discography‚ supplemented by "Renaissance‚" a tune from Ponty‚ plus a somewhat redundant showcase for Clarke‚ "School Days‚" from the solo album of the same name. Over the course of the various tracks (surprisingly‚ given the level of detail supplied otherwise‚ containing no designation of their respective recording locations)‚ the ensemble's work is smooth and fluid‚ with nary a moment of one-upsmanship in the carefully-arranged rotation of solos. For instance‚ "Senior Mouse" and the segue of "The Shadow of Lo"/"Sorceress" benefit tremendously from the restraint: it's as if RTF are so confident of themselves and the loyalty of their listenership‚ those present at the concerts themselves mixed plenty high by Mick Guzauski‚ they feel no need to impress by inordinate complexity or flash. As a direct result‚ "Beyond the Seventh Galaxy‚" to name just one (and an abbreviated one at that‚ clocking 3:44) comes and goes in short order sans bombast of any kind.
Band chemistry what it is‚ perhaps the presence of the redoubtable Ponty‚ with his own estimable pedigree‚ and the decidedly low profile Gambale‚ accounts for the focus on musicianship as an end in itself. The tranquility and quiet that arises from Ponty's composition over the course of its sixteen-plus minutes‚ is far greater than the sum of its parts comprised as it is with an acoustic-textured guitar interlude followed immediately by the melodious tones of acoustic piano. In this context‚ the tune and the performance sound like natural extensions of the excerpts from the RTF discography that surround it.

The 'bonus' DVD includes two more such culls in the form of extended runs through "After The Cosmic Rain" and "The Romantic Warrior‚" both‚ oddly enough‚ repeats from the CDs‚ perhaps because the music soars with some palpable majesty (thought not at dizzying heights). The movie trailer from The Story of Return to Forever teases the documentary of the same name‚ but the hour-plus piece title "Inside the Music" begs the question of how much more thorough such a dissection of this band's evolution might be without getting into the personalities involved. Still‚ it would serve a worthwhile purpose to illuminate the musical development of Return to Forever if the chronology went back to its seminal points when the lineup counted among its members saxophonist Joe Farrell‚ vocalist Flora Purim and percussionist nonpareil Airto Moreira.
Long-time fans of this band in all its various incarnations‚ as well as those hoping to catch-up on the group's approximately four decades of work have more than enough content her to simultaneously satisfy and whet their appetite. Absorbing it all at once or in segments‚ both cross-sections of the RTF audience should feel a palpable sense optimism for the group in the long-term‚ a laughable premise perhaps but a reasonable one given the challenges Chick Corea alludes to in his introductory notes to The Mothership Returns.