Stanley Clarke - The Message (Advance Review)

Stanley Clarke
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Stanley Clarke - The Message

Jazz, classical, fusion, R&B, hip-hop, rock. Stanley Clarke has pretty much done it all since he emerged on the scene 45 years ago as the co-founder of ground breaking fusion band Return to Forever. And he pretty much does it all on The Message, his soon to be released album.

Clarke and his contemporaries such as Bootsy Collins, Larry Graham, Marcus Miller and Verdine White were a part of a group of bass players who worked to push the instrument from the background firmly into the forefront. Yet, Clarke is defined as much by his wide ranging musical curiosity as his talent.

Stanley Clarke - The Message

Jazz, classical, fusion, R&B, hip-hop, rock. Stanley Clarke has pretty much done it all since he emerged on the scene 45 years ago as the co-founder of ground breaking fusion band Return to Forever. And he pretty much does it all on The Message, his soon to be released album.

Clarke and his contemporaries such as Bootsy Collins, Larry Graham, Marcus Miller and Verdine White were a part of a group of bass players who worked to push the instrument from the background firmly into the forefront. Yet, Clarke is defined as much by his wide ranging musical curiosity as his talent.

That becomes abundantly clear on The Message, a record that is bookended by hip-hop jazz fusion. The record also includes a nod to Clarke’s training as a classical musician, elements of hard-bop and free jazz and a large helping of the jazz-rock fusion that Clarke, Chick Corea, Lenny White and Bill Connors helped to popularize in the 1970s with Return to Forever.

The Message throws the spotlight on the young musicians - keyboardists Cameron Graves and Beka Gochiashvili and drummer Mike Mitchell – that Clarke has been working with for several years, as well as guest appearances by several artists, including hip-hop legend Doug E Fresh, trumpeter Mark Isham and saxophonist Doug Webb.

Clarke’s sidemen had a hand in writing much of the record’s material. The composing began in Paris in 2015 when a terrorist attack in Tunisia – which was the next stop – ended the tour and the musicians decided to remain in Paris, rent some hotel rooms and write.

The album’s sole cover is the prelude to Bach’s “Cello Suite 1,” which is one of the most famous pieces in classical music. It was written for cello, but the classically trained Clarke puts bow to his upright bass and gets a deeper and more resonant sound out of the much larger instrument. “The Rugged Truth” is a track co-written by Graves, Gochiashvili and Mitchell and moves from atmospheric synthesized opening to alternating between distorted rock guitars and Gochiashvili’s deft creativity on the piano. The track encompasses every aspect of Clarke’s career in about three in a half minutes.

Clarke is intensely concerned about the health of the planet. His previous project included messages about global warning by fans that were left on Clarke’s phone. “Combat Continuum” is cut the feels like the score of a war movie with intense bass and guitar piano flourishes mixed in. The tune tells the story of the tragic consequences that result when humanity misinterprets a message of peace from an advanced civilization.

The fast moving “Alternative Facts” is a straight ahead modern jazz piece that finds Clarke laying down some bottom on the acoustic bass and allowing Gochiashvili and Mitchell to display their rapid-fire creativity on the piano and drums, while “To Be Alive” fuses 80s synthesized funk with the lyrical flow of Doug E Fresh.

Clarke opens the album with “And Ya Know We’re Missing You,” a track that pays honor to musical friends such as George Duke, Prince and Al Jarreau, who have transitioned in recent years. The number is a percussive piece that primarily features Doug E Fresh beat boxing and Clarke’s thumping and plucking on the bass. That’s an appropriate place to begin The Message, which is a project that honors the timelessness of Clarke’s talent and contribution to the music scene while also managing to be a right on time work of jazz, rock, funk and rap fusion. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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