Mike Clark (Blueprints of Jazz, Vol.1) – Talking House Records

by | Jan 26, 2009 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Mike Clark (Blueprints of Jazz, Vol.1) – Talking House Records 2009, 73:42 ****1/2:

(Mike Clark, drums; Christian McBride, bass; Patrice Rushen, piano; Donald Harrison,alto; Jed Levy, tenor; Christian Scott, trumpet)

Talking House Records is performing an invaluable service to jazz by releasing three volumes of newly-recorded music by three lesser known masters (this one will be followed by bands led by Billy Harper and Donald Bailey). All three are well recorded, including remastering by Bernie Grundman.

This album features a stupendous session recorded on two days in May 2006.  For my money this sextet, were they to stick together, could become the next Jazz Messengers.  Clark, best known for his funk/fusion playing and stint with Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, heroically demonstrates his supreme prowess as a post- bop jazz master.  Also showing her straight-ahead jazz side is Patrice Rushen, who is simply magnificent throughout. This might also be one of the very best recorded performances by alto saxist Donald Harrison (ironically a former member of Blakey’s Messengers).  Bassist McBride merely shows again why he’s the best in the business.  Scott contributes mightily to eight of the ten tracks, while New Yorker Levy plays extremely well while contributing the first two numbers.

The disc flies out of the gate with track one’s quintet performance.  Rushen leads this up-tempo blaster, followed by forceful statements from both saxes and Clarks’ first solo from his humongous-sounding kit.  Track two hardly slows things at all with Harrison laying down a Coltraneish feel.  The cut then introduces trumpeter Scott before revealing what is probably Levy’s best solo, followed by Rushen-time.  

I cannot immediately recall any more appropriately titled tune than track three’s “10th Ave. 1957”.  A true highlight, this number perfectly evokes the booze, broads, cigarettes, lipstick, stockings and film noir feel of a classic Robert Mitchum private eye flick of the period.  Perfectly.  The pace is completely right with astonishingly correct solos by reeds and horn.  Everything just drips with intrigue completely suited to the atmosphere called for.  An amazing group realization of a day and time.

Rushen lays out on track four, which utilizes unison playing to highlight drum support, along with soloing and great interaction between bass and drums.  Track five really nails a Messenger sound .  Classic stuff with superb soloing.  Track six affords Clark the opportunity to provide a true lesson on funk drums.  This is a monstrously funky jam with marvelous solos by Rushen, Scott and Harrison.

Track seven changes the pace with a quartet highlighting a lengthy Scott solo followed by a bass/drums discussion and a fine piano contribution.  The full ensemble returns for track eight with magnificent sax-trumpet-sax-piano soloing.  Pure prime post-bop stuff.  McBride’s walking bass really drives track nine.  Rushen offers sparse backing to a burnin’ Harrison before soloing along with Clark.  Another state of the art presentation.

If any track can rival the artistry of “10th Ave. 1957” it is the quartet rendering of the final track, Billy Eckstein’s “I Want To Talk About You”.   Rushen is stately, McBride again cements his reputation and Clark utilizes brushes for the first time.  But the solo statements of Donald Harrison stand out as examples of just about the most intense and regal playing I’ve heard from the New Orleans titan.  The first solo in particular promotes him to the forefront of current alto sax players.  It is astounding in its completeness in revealing a formidable mastery of the horn and all its possibilities.  Massively wonderful!

To wrap up – this is a topflight release showcasing a cast of first rate musicians.  It clearly shows that Clark and Rushen are, in fact, still mainstream jazz artists of the first rank.  Again, this sounds very much to me like the current equivalent of a band which could achieve the heights and recognition of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers if they were to further record and tour together.  I can’t think of praise much higher than that.  A truly auspicious initial release by a label deserving total support with its superb packaging, production values and artist selection.

TrackList: In The House; Like That; 10th Ave.1957; Past Lives; Thanks Len; Loft Funk; Clark Kent; Conchita’s Dance; Morning Became Electra; I Want To Talk About You.

–  Birney K. Brown

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