Stanley Clarke – The Stanley Clarke Band featuring Hiromi with Ruslan and Ronald Bruner Jr. – Heads Up HUCD3161, 63:26 [Distrib. by Telarc] ****:
(Stanley Clarke, electric bass guitar; Ruslan, keyboards, electric piano; Ronald Bruner Jr., drums; Hiromi, acoustic piano; special guests: Cheryl Bentyne, vocals; Charles Altura, electric guitar; Armand Sabal-Lecco, electric bass guitar; Bob Sheppard, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Andrew Lippman, trombone; Jon Papenbrook, trumpet; Rob Bacon, electric guitar; Lorenzo Dunn, bass synthesizer; Chris Clarke, drum programming; Joe Hakakian, drum programming.)
It didn’t take long for Stanley Clarke to make his mark on the jazz scene forty years ago. The talented bassist would perform and record with Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson, Pharoah Saunders, Gil Evans, and Stan Getz. When he teamed up with Chick Corea in the groundbreaking Return to Forever, modern jazz received a jolt of inspired fusion. Clarke’s highly technical and assured bass and doublebass playing elevated him above his peers. He would develop into an accomplished composer and arranger, and produce a prolific solo catalogue.
On The Stanley Clarke Band, he has assembled a brilliant core group as well as legendary studio musicians to proffer a scintillating array of songs. At the heart of these compositions is the dexterity and mastery of his instrument. Like Charlie Mingus, Clarke has managed to execute the bass as a lead.
On “Soldier” he establishes an atmospheric background to accentuate a crisp bass lead. The soft piano texture of Ruslan inhabits the piece with a perfect balance. Hiromi’s stylish play is also featured throughout the global warming fusion piece “How Is The Weather Up There”, which features a classical piano solo. A latin rhythm piece, “Sonny Rollins”, Clarke’s tribute to the legendary jazzman, demonstrates a deft arrangement with a funky bass opening, a swing time saxophone lead with horn backgrounds, and a subtle use of the synthesizer. The depth of the piece is illuminated by intricate piano and electric piano solos by Hiromi and Ruslan.
There is a sonic connection to the jazz fusion of the 70s with the African influenced melody of “Fulani”, made notable by vocal percussion chants, extended synthesizer play, and powerful bass lines. The funk homage continues with a compact arrangement in “I Wanna Play for You Too”, accentuated by a synthesized bass groove, tight horn section and background vocals. Fans of Return to Forever will revel in the precision and shifts of Corea’s “No Mystery.”
For sheer artistry, there are two solo Clarke pieces, “Bass Folk Song No. 10”, and “Bass Folk Song No.6 (Mo Anam Cara)”, that utilize a structured composition that allows for trademark fluidity, with an improvisational feel. Trivia enthusiasts will be interested to know that one of the bass instruments used in this recording once belonged to Charlie Mingus, and was lent to Clarke by fellow Philadelphian and jazz fan Bill Cosby.
TrackList: Soldier; Fulani; Here’s Why Tears Dry; I Wanna Play for You Too; Bass Folk Song No. 10; No Mystery; How Is The Weather Up There?; Larry Has Traveled 11 Miles and Waited a Lifetime for the Return of Vishnu’s Report; Labyrinth; Sonny Rollins; Bass Folk Song No. 6 (Mo Anam Cara).
— Robbie Gerson