Stanley Clarke - Up (2014)

Stanley Clarke
stanley_clarke_up_0.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase

Stanley Clarke has been performing and recording for more than 45 years. He’s cut 40 plus albums, including his latest Up. So it should not be surprising that Up has a sentimental component. Clarke recruited longtime industry veterans and fresh faces with whom he’s been connected over the years.

On Up he covers a version of his classic from the days of 70s fusion, “School Days,” as well “Brazilian Love Song,” a  tune made famous by his good friend and long-time collaborator, the late, great George Duke. Of course, it’s been a season of musical tributes to Duke, who died in 2013, and it should surprise no one that the man who worked so closely and successfully with the great keyboardist decides to pay his respects.

Stanley Clarke has been performing and recording for more than 45 years. He’s cut 40 plus albums, including his latest Up. So it should not be surprising that Up has a sentimental component. Clarke recruited longtime industry veterans and fresh faces with whom he’s been connected over the years.

On Up he covers a version of his classic from the days of 70s fusion, “School Days,” as well “Brazilian Love Song,” a  tune made famous by his good friend and long-time collaborator, the late, great George Duke. Of course, it’s been a season of musical tributes to Duke, who died in 2013, and it should surprise no one that the man who worked so closely and successfully with the great keyboardist decides to pay his respects.

The album includes four short to mid-sized solo interludes for bass that serve as Clarke’s thoughts on nature, as well as musical influences such as legendary hard bop bassist Charles Mingus (“Bass Folk Song #13: Mingus”) and greats with whom Clarke performed (“Bass Folk Song #7: Tradition”).

Although Up finds Clarke looking back, the record is far from being a maudlin piece sentimentalism. Clarke’s work on the bass is as creative and energetic as it’s ever been. He alternates between the electric bass that made him one of the leading forces of jazz fusion (from his days with the ground breaking band Return to Forever in the 70s through his collaborations with fellow bass gods Marcus Miller and Victor Wooton) and the upright acoustic bass.

Up opens with a funky kick in the pants in the form of “Pop Virgil,” a tribute to Clarke’s grandfather. Clarke’s signature tapping and plucking on the bass powers the track, and Paul Jackson Jr.’s guitar riff along with Dan Higgins’ sax solo and kicking drum break by Gary Grant endow “Pop Virgil” with a 1960s era James Brown Band feel.

“Last Train to Sanity” opens with the whirling and dizzying string work of the Harlem String Quartet before the tempo switches to an up tempo number propelled by Clarke’s bass and Ronald Bruner, Jr.’s drum. The Duke composed “Brazilian Love Affair” opens with percussion and Afro-Latin chants before transitioning into an up-tempo fusion number that combines deft piano work by Beka Gochiashvili and vocals reminiscent of Sergio Mendes’ work in the 1970s.

Clarke slows the pace down on the instrumental funk ballad “I Have Something to Tell Tonight,”  and he  switches to acoustic bass on the hard bop ballad “Trust – Dedicated to Nana” - a tune that honors Clarke’s daughter Natasha. Later, Clarke and the band change tempo and genres totally on the blazing, rock infused “School Days.”  The piece shows that Clarke has no problems playing rock styled bass lines while Jimmy Herring’s slashing guitar solo joyously recall the rebellious days of rock music’s teenaged years. Up ends on an appropriate note with Clarke and RTF band mate, the legendary Chick Corea, dueting on the lovely “La Cancion De Sofia.” Clarke alternates between playing electric bass and using a bow on the upright bass on a track that evokes intimacy and quiet.

If there is one criticism of jazz albums these days, it could be for their sameness. A lot of albums stick to one tempo, and the focus in entirely on one instrument. That is certainly not the case with Up. Stanley Clarke makes an album that reminds listeners what jazz can add to rock, world music, funk and soul. While his bass playing is front and center, he gives ample space to his fellow musicians to improvise and engage in a musical conversation, ensuring that the sum of these many parts add up to a well-crafted whole. Solidly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 

Leave a comment!