The Stanley Clarke Band by Stanley Clarke

A Chris Mann Review


A new Stanley Clarke album is an event for me and his legions of fans. On this, his 3rd album for Heads Up International, he has surrounded himself with – and given great credit to – some of the world’s top young players in the jazz-rock arena. He’s also got drummer Lenny White in to share production duties.

And what a joy: even from the first bar of Ruslan Sirota’s ‘Soldier’ you know it’s a Stanley Clarke album. That distinctive bass sound cuts like a knife and always has something to say! This song alternates between melancholy and rockin’ out and comes to us at an appropriate time when the leaders of the UK and USA are discussing how and when to end at least one senseless conflict. Of course, it continues the theme of his previous solo release ‘The Toys of Men’. ‘Fulani’ was penned by long-time Clarke collaborator Armand Sabal-Lecco and is a fascinating mix of groove and drama, pulled off in a way that Clarke has made his trademark.

I also enjoy Clarke’s forays into ballad territory. I loved ‘What if I Forget the Champagne?’ from ‘East River Drive’ and I love ‘Here’s Why Tears Dry’ which showcases the searing guitar of Charles Altura, sounding like Jorge Strunz on Caldera’s ‘Sky Islands’ album. But funk is what I live for and in the updated version of an old song, ‘I Wanna Play for You Too’, I get plenty! Dirty, low bass with voice box and a chugging groove that doesn’t stop!

‘Bass Folk Song # 10’ is a funky solo piece from a series that began on an earlier album, sandwiched between a very blue, minor-key intro and fade. Which of Stanley Clarke’s fans doesn’t know the blissful ‘No Mystery’ from his RTF days? This time the staccato piano figure is provided by Hiromi, who really makes this song her own with a beautiful solo amid the rocky flavour that the song has in this version. The band rock it up, funk it up and even skank it up but it remains the Chick Corea masterpiece we know and love. Live, this must be knockout!

The mood is dramatic for ‘How is The Weather Up There?’ and with us all waking up to the realities of global warming and its effects, this is a timely reminder. An inconvenient truth indeed… ‘Larry Has Traveled 11 Miles and Waited a Lifetime for the Return of Vishnu’s Report’ is a heartfelt and witty tribute to Larry Coryell and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report and other pioneers of jazz-rock. It’s performed with dazzling virtuosity on the part of the whole band; Hiromi, Ruslan on synthesizers, Charles Altura and the rock-solid Ronald Bruner on drums. The lingering memory for me is Bob Sheppard’s lovely soprano sax.

Hiromi’s composition ‘Labyrinth’ has her acoustic piano out front as it shifts between time signatures and moods. I haven’t heard piano played as passionately as this since I bought Kei Akagi’s ‘Playroom’ back in the early 90’s. It’s little wonder that her name features prominently on the CD cover. A long acoustic bass solo opens the tribute ‘Sonny Rollins’ and it’s played on a bass once owned by Charles Mingus and loaned by Bill Cosby. This is a very playful song, with Bob Sheppard sounding as good on tenor horn as he does on soprano, and a rhythm full of calypso energy. You just have to smile. Ruslan’s electric piano solo is just a joy and the brass section on here is bubbling. Slapped electric bass and bowed acoustic take centre stage in turns and the band sound like they are having a ball! The closer ‘Bass Folk Song #6 (Mo Anam Cara)’ reminds Clarke, he says, of Dublin. And for sure it has a plaintive Celtic beauty. He uses acoustic bass on this tune whose title, translated from the Gaelic, means ‘my soul mate’. What more is there to say?

Clarke has said that this is likely to be his last electric album for a while so enjoy this release to the full. I’m drawn to it because I hear echoes of some of his older pieces between the fresh compositions and the vitality that comes from having these young players to work with. I don’t listen that analytically, though, and what hits me immediately is the aggression with which my hero still wields the electric bass. He still feels it, he still means it – I still love it!!


Heads Up International HUCD3161 – Producers: Stanley Clarke & Lenny White