Return to Forever / July 31, 2008 / Clearwater, Fla. (Ruth Eckerd Hall)

"This is a really thrilling night for me -- my hometown and everything," Chick Corea told a Tampa Bay area audience openly hyped about the first tour in 25 years by Return to Forever, the keyboardist'

"This is a really thrilling night for me -- my hometown and everything," Chick Corea told a Tampa Bay area audience openly hyped about the first tour in 25 years by Return to Forever, the keyboardist's seminal fusion band.

How excited was the crowd, gathered at the acoustically pristine concert hall located not far from where the former Los Angeles resident has lived since 1997. So pumped up with anticipation that the jazz-rock quartet received a raucous standing ovation before unleashing even a single light-speed run.

After a meditative opening section, the ripping commenced in earnest, with two sets taken almost entirely from four albums released between 1973 and 1976, and collected on the recently released double-disc retrospective, "The Anthology."

Any doubts, all these years later, about the band's ability to grab onto the tremendously complicated themes and quick-shifting chord sequences characteristic of the old music were erased with "Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy," a smorgasbord of twisting unison lines with plenty of room for Lenny White's sly drum fills. An anthemic chorus, Al Di Meola's acid-washed guitar, Corea's squiggly synthesizer lines and bassist Stanley Clarke's impossibly agile fretboard travels juiced "Vulcan Worlds."

Clarke's rubbery funk groove and a dirty, bluesy six-string solo rooted "Sorceress" to earthy musical terrain, and the band sped back to solar regions on the spacey, synth-soaked "Song to the Pharoah Kings."

The quartet unplugged for the second set, as "No Mystery" segued into Di Meola's unaccompanied, flamenco-tinged solo, and, finally, a lovely, seemingly spontaneous piano-guitar duet on Corea's "Spain." An acoustic version of the elegant "The Romantic Warrior" showcased Clarke's bowing skills. And Corea played an improvisation alone before leading a piano trio version of Miles Davis's "Solar," a tip of the hat to the man whose late-'60s work essentially spawned the fusion movement.

Given the receptiveness of the crowd, and Return to Forever's renewed musical vigor, the show might have gone on, well, forever. Instead, the band turned to the two-part "Duel of the Jester & the Tyrant" for an encore that upped the ante on inventive melodic twists, burning guitar and synth lines, and thundering rhythm-section funk and rock rhythms. Left in the wake were 2,000 or so fans dazed by the intense musical synchronicity and utterly pleased to have experienced a reunion that most never expected to witness.

With any luck, RTF fans won't have to wait another quarter-century to catch the band again.