Category: Concert Reviews

  • Lenny White: Returning to His Forever

    He charted the Netherlands of jazz/rock with Miles Davis, wailed with Freddy Hubbard, and went out on more than one musical limb with his own albums Venusian Summer, Big City, and The Adventures of Astral Pirates…but nothing he did before or since really tops his main contribution to the world of fusion: his stint with Return to Forever in the 1970s.

    Three decades later, classics from Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy, Where Have I Known You Before, No Mystery, and Romantic Warrior were reborn at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, on June 13, where Lenny and company packed the house. If you’ve been following the reunion news, you probably know that Lenny’s right shoulder and arm have been impacted by a pinched nerve. It drains his strength and requires a scaling back of his classic chops, but his touch and taste have not suffered in the least.

    The show opened with a brief video tribute to Joe Zawinul and Miles Davis, followed by a surprise introduction of RTF by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It was like watching stars step through time, virtually unaged.

    After Kareem had the audience sing Happy Birthday to Chick, RTF launched into a night most of us who’d seen them in the ’70s never thought would happen, with personal and welcome commentary from each player in between songs. Their appreciation of the audience equaled and likely exceeded our appreciation of them taking the stage once more….

    Watching Lenny on the big screens lets you see just how little motion he uses to get such a huge sound. He didn’t need to slam the kit at all to get power out of it, which remains a trademark of his playing. Lenny’s Innovation drums (the current setup included two mounted toms and three floor toms ) had tones as pure as his Gretsch kit from thirty years ago, with the classic cracking snare and melodic toms, and his Istanbul cymbals sounded every bit as timeless.

    Lenny has never been afraid to take chances with his playing, but you could see in his eyes that pacing for the night was definitely on his mind. While he maintained precise focus, his crisscrossing of cymbal splashes still give guys twenty years his younger a run for their money. Lenny’s left foot was pumping the hi-hat nonstop, and his right foot can still make your leg hurt just watching him stomp out 16th notes. Lenny’s interplay with the band, especially Stanley Clarke, was every bit as intense as it ever was, and while the flurry of fills was scaled back by necessity, the dance of sound that sets Lenny’s drumming apart from the pack was every bit as signature.

    Throughout classic tunes that included “Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy,” “Vulcan Worlds,” “Sorceress,” and “Song to the Pharaoh Kings,” Lenny spun time as only he can. After a mid-show break, the band returned to showcase each player, and Lenny’s solo was more about timekeeping than any kind of chops display. He’s always been a tasteful player; time has only seasoned him in this respect. And if anyone had any doubt about Lenny’s ability to still kick hand/foot paradiddles in the ass, his reprise of a few classic full-throttle measures from “Medieval Overture” abruptly put that thought to rest.

    After closing with “Dual of the Jester and the Tyrant,” RTF came back for an encore that melded “Dayride” into “Spain.” Maybe the most magic in the evening was a simple gesture on Chick’s part, playing small phrases and having the audience sing them back. For a few moments, you forgot that anything else in the world existed outside the Gibson Amphitheatre walls.

    And one moment that will especially stay in the audiences’ minds came when Lenny White took the mike and spoke directly about how the evening was a testament to the longevity of instrumental music.

    “You all know these tunes. We don’t have to tell you their names. Maybe we can all play music again and take the industry back,” Lenny commented, which definitely got a rise, as did his closing thought.

    “I tell audiences the same thing every night. In an age of boy bands, THIS is a man band!”

    Hell yeah it is. And for my money, Lenny White is still the man.