And then there was Four.
Back in the seventies, pianist Chick Corea and bassist Stanley Clarke played in multiple incarnations of the band Return to Forever. The first was a semi-acoustic, Latin-inflected combo with saxophonist Joe Farrell and singer Flora Purim; next came an electric fusion incarnation, with Lenny White on drums and a string of guitarists starting with Bill Connors; and then there was a large group with brass and Corea's wife, Gayle Moran, on keyboards and vocals.
The second version of RTF reunited twice, most recently in 2008, but this year Corea and Clarke are taking a whole new show on the road: Return to Forever IV, with White, violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, and guitarist Frank Gambale. The Globe spoke with Corea as he was heading to a rehearsal in upstate New York.
You, Stanley and Lenny just released a trio album, Forever, which includes Jean-Luc playing on several tracks. Given that the trio came together after the last RTF reunion, was the trio a sort of preliminary step on the way to this band?
We weren't thinking about Return to Forever IV when we were doing the trio. We were just taking things one step at a time, you know? After we did the '08 tour, there was a renewed kind of energy. We were almost like kids with it, playing the tunes that we would play if we just got together to fool around.
So the trio became tighter, it was a lot of fun, and we started talking about putting a new version of Return to Forever together.
Are you surprised at how durable the RTF brand has been?
Actually, yes, I am. I'm continually surprised as offers come in for the band to play, and also at the stream of interest that comes in through the website, and through fans who come backstage when I'm doing other projects. I compare notes with Stanley and Lenny as they travel, and they have similar stories.
They either have good memories, or deep record collections.
That's right. I've noticed through the years that the interest in the band - and generally in sixties and seventies music - is passed along from the older generation to younger people. 'Cause the people that actually attend our concerts are young. Not that people my age don't come, but it's mostly young people. The public media doesn't promote music like that much, so it tends to become a discovery to younger people who weren't brought up with it.
You have a couple of tracks on the new album with Bill Connors, and I can't tell you how many times I've heard guitar players say, 'Man, I wish Connors would get together with Corea again.'
It was great getting back together with Billy, and he hadn't played the electric guitar in decades. He picked one up and there it was, that beautiful sound he gets, intact and gorgeous.
I'm going to invite him to sit in with the band - he's definitely part of our history.
Is it fun to reconnect musically with people?
Without a doubt, my richest relationships are my long-term friendships with musical partners, because we make music together. That's what we love to do with our lives. My wife, Gayle, is a wonderful musician and singer. We share music, so it's a deep bond.
And when long periods of time go by, like with Billy - we got together and it was like no time had passed. Same with Stanley and Lenny. It's real nice to experience that.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Return to Forever IV performs at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal on Sunday (Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier), the Ottawa Jazz Festival on Monday (Confederation Park) and the Toronto Jazz Festival on Tuesday (Sony Centre).