Stanley Clarke is one of the people who transformed the electric bass guitar into a marquee instrument. While the instrument always enjoyed a level of prominence in R&B and its offshoot genres because listeners love the heavy rhythm laid down by bass players, it often remained in the background.
Being natural showmen, bass players like Larry Graham took to adding flourishes such as plucking and slapping in order to create the sound that funk fans associate with the music. The classical and jazz trained Clarke took those techniques to another level by employing the kind of harmonies improvisational creativity associated with acoustic bass giants such as Charles Mingus.
Clarke sometimes seemed to be doing electric guitar-type runs on the electric bass. That is why Clarke (along with players like Marcus Miller) remains the standard by which all other bass players are judged. Clarke does nothing to diminish his stature on his new CD the Stanley Clarke Band. This CD, like so many other strong fusion recordings, comes from the Cleveland-based Heads Up label. Yeah, the city of Cleveland lost Lebron, but Heads Up is recruiting an all-star team of cutting edge and top-flight musicians. Albums from the Heads Up catalog are going a long way toward breathing new life into the long neglected jazz-fusion sub-genre.
Clarke played a leading role in establishing this offshoot of avant garde jazz, funk and rock through his work with groups such as Return to Forever, and theStanley Clarke Band shows that he has retained the virtuosity that kept his name on the lips of knowledgeable music fans throughout the 1970s.
And while Clarke is known best for his fusion and funk work with RTF and with George Duke, songs like "Labyrinth" show that Clarke is right at home as a straight ahead jazz musician. In fact "Labyrinth" shows that Clarke is a team player who can lay down a rhythm that provides a space for musicians such as pianist Hiromi to improvise.
The listener can take "Labyrinth" and tunes like "Fulani" as to points on the musical pole crafted by Clarke. Where Clarke's bass playing is steady as she goes on "Labyrinth, the musician pulls out all of the stops on "Fulani." Clarke is thumping, switching tempos, slapping. Clarke is equally as diverse on the following song, "Here's Why Tears Dry." Clarke shows once again shows that he can play well with others as he provides the foundation for some strong rock guitar by Charles Altura while also stepping up front to engage in some creating of his own.
The Stanley Clarke Band might come as a shock to the system for those who grew up listening to smooth jazz, but the album will prove to be a needed jolt for those old school fusion lovers.