How do you being to grade or rate a band that is composed of masterful musicians? Any sort of criteria relating to musicianship seems irrelevant essentially, because you can't help but rate them well. Indeed, Return to Forever is one such band that is filled with those who are renowned for their mastery of their instruments, and as expected, they exemplify that mastery live.
Unfortunately, that mastery was far from appreciated during the performance. While most of the audience seemed to recognize that they were watching extremely skilled musicians perform their craft, very few audience members seemed to truly appreciate it. The difference ties to what the audience was composed of, that is, middle class, middle-aged pseudo-pretentious music fans. They knew enough to recognize the skill, but not enough to really appreciate it. Which was depressing because they clapped and screamed throughout the solos and songs, obscuring the subtleties and even annoying the performers quite a bit. This was a crowd of Rock fans at a Jazz concert, and they were sorely out of place. It certainly didn't help that so many were inebriated, but I feel these people wouldn't know class if it looked them in the eye.
Beyond the crowd though, the show was amazing. The first set was the more Fusion-oriented set, but still with the Jazz-improv that meshes the Jazz and Rock worlds in these types of bands. Technical issues plagued Chick early on, but by the start of the second song he seemed to have worked things out for the most part...although his acoustic piano was muted when he first started playing it. The first set, while great, was overshadowed by the second set, which was primarily acoustic.
The second set began with Al Di Meola's solo and it was a very nice acoustic piece leading into the opening song of the set. Chick opened the second song with the best solo of the night, without a doubt. The masterful experimentation ranging from using mallets and even his fingers to stroke the piano strings, to lovely Jazz compositions with very loose structure. It was both beautiful and almost incomprehensible, the latter likely lending to the strength of the former. Stanley's solo was the most flashy solo of the night and certainly energized the crowd. The solo was possibly the most creative of the night. While Chick's blew Stanley's away in terms of musicality, the things Stanley did with his upright were things i have never seen done before. Very interesting and unique and memorable. Lenny's solo was in the midst of the last song and was my least favorite of the night sadly, despite my drummer nature. While not bad by any means, compared to the avant-garde style employed by Chick and Stanley, Lenny's solo seemed far too accessible and simplistic for a man of his talents. There was not anything very interesting going on in it either, mostly rudiments and weirdly timed fills and, while difficult, the solo did not wow as much as his peers' did.
The encore began with Chick on the keytar involving the audience in singing along to his melodies while the rest of the band looked on. Gradually the band built into the start of something before bringing the audience back in again. After that they began the encore song. The song itself was sort of a let down after all of those solos. It felt empty as it was played without as much improv as previous pieces and was much more straightforward. While a fan favorite, they could have done more with it musically to end on a high point.
That being said, the show was amazing, period. In simple summary: amazing musicians play amazing music.