Always tied to a confusing time line, the first released recording from the original configuration of Return to Forever was actually their second session. An initial studio date from the ECM label done in February of 1972 wasn't issued until after the band had changed in 1975. The Polydor/Verve recording from October of 1972 is indeed this 1973 release, featuring the same band with Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Airto Moreira, Joe Farrell, and Flora Purim. There's no need splitting hairs, as both are five-star albums, showcasing many of the keyboardist's long enduring, immediately recognizable, and highly melodic compositions. Farrell's happy flute, Purim's in-the-clouds wordless vocals, the electrifying percussion of Airto, and Clarke's deft and loping electric bass guitar lines are all wrapped in a stew of Brazilian samba and Corea's Fender Rhodes electric piano, certainly setting a tone and the highest bar for the music of peer groups to follow. "Captain Marvel" -- the seed for the band sans Farrell and Purim that was expanded into a full concept album with Stan Getz -- is here as a steamy fusion samba with Corea dancing on the keys. By now the beautiful "500 Miles High" has become Purim's signature song with Neville Potter's lyrics and Corea's stabbing chords, and unfortunately became a hippie drug anthem. Perhaps Corea's definitive song of all time, and covered ad infinitum by professional and school bands, "Spain" retains the quirky melody, handclapped interlude, up-and-down dynamics, exciting jam section, and variation in time, tempo, and colorations that always command interest despite a running time of near ten minutes. "You're Everything" is a romantic classic that surely has been heard at many weddings, with another lyric by Potter sung in heaven by Purim, while the title track is Purim's lyric in a looser musical framework with Clarke's chart coalescing with Corea and Farrell's pungent flute work. As much as the others have become icons, the extraordinary sound of Farrell on this date should never be trivialized or underestimated. The final track, "Children's Song," was a springboard for several of Corea's full-length album projects, and is heard here for the first time via a trio setting in a slow, birthlike motif. The expanded version of this recording includes many alternate takes of four of these selections, but also includes "Matrix," which was not on any RTF albums, and there are four versions of "What Game Shall We Play Today?," which was only available on the ECM release. From a historical perspective, this is the most important effort of Corea's career, quite different than his prior previous progressive or improvising efforts, and the pivotal beginning of his career as the most popular contemporary jazz keyboardist in history.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos