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It was early 1976. The Mahavishnu Orchestra was still "somewhat around" with John McLaughlin in his Inner Worlds mode, but they weren't setting the fusion world on fire quite as much as they did in the earlier part of that decade. Keyboardist extraordinaire Chick Corea's Return To Forever had been around for a while and held its ground in the fusion world well enough while Mahavishnu was still "THE Big Thing" in fusion. But with the release of Romantic Warrior in '76, RTF seemed to leap toward the forefront of fusion bands that would catch the ear of a wider audience, and along with bands like Weather Report they kept that Miles Davis/Tony Williams' Lifetime/Mahavishnu fusion flame burning brightly.
Prior to Romantic Warrior, RTF was solid with Bill Connors manning the guitar duties. But Connors left to concentrate more on acoustic work. In came 21-year-old Al Di Meola to take his place, and the group's cohesiveness and fire jumped to a whole new level. RTF always had respect among the jazz crowd, no big surprise with heavy hitters such as Corea, drummer Lenny White, and bassist Stanley Clarke in the mix. Once Di Meola came along, rock fans had to take even more notice of them. His sound could easily have been mistaken for that of Carlos Santana in his glory years.
Romantic Warrior gives each member of the band a chance to shine, not only in their individual playing (where each is among the tops on their particular instrument) but in their song composition. Three of the six songs were written by Corea, one each from White, Di Meola and Clarke. And each one fits the "romantic warrior" theme perfectly.
"Medieval Overture" was always an immediate ear-catcher for me, but over time White's "Sorceress" has become a favorite. It seems to give everyone a chance to show off, and provides Di Meola with a good opportunity to show off some of his more Santana-like licks.
The title track begins very laid back, starting with some wonderfully swirling piano work from Corea, soft acoustic touches from Di Meola, Clarke putting a bow to an acoustic bass, and cool chops from White. It builds into an epic jazz journey.
"Majestic Dance" showed that Di Meola, though still very young, could pen some real gems. The interplay from everyone here is fabulous. "The Magician" is like a musical candy store. Clarke laid out a lot of musical goodies on this one, bringing in hand bells, alarm clocks, slide whistles, everything but the bathroom sink. It all concludes with another Corea epic in "Duel," that takes the listener on a wild ride.
This was a musical melting pot, involving so many musical ideas it makes the head spin. Each member was strong in revolving lead parts, equally strong in supporting roles. It all added up to a recording that is a must-have for any fusion collection.