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Stanley Clarke - Stanley Clarke CD (album) cover

STANLEY CLARKE

Stanley Clarke

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.82 | 52 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
4 stars In the early years of the anything-goes seventies Chick Corea's scintillating and envelope- pushing Return To Forever band attracted progressive rock fans like lemmings to steep cliffs, ready to leap recklessly into the unknown just for the thrill of the experience. Everyone could recognize that the raised-on-experimental jazz musicians he enlisted to further the cause were incredibly talented but Stanley Clarke, the who-the-heck-is-THIS-guy bassist, stood out like a Zoot suit at a Chinese funeral and enraptured admirers such as myself literally begged for more. In 1974 we got our wish with this self-named solo effort. While arguably coming up a few fries short of a complete happy meal, it still provides plenty in the way of strong doses of electrified jazz rock/fusion to warrant a place on your shelf and repeated plays.

Stanley wisely surrounded himself with a trio of capable hot shots (drummer Tony Williams, keyboard maniac Jan Hammer and his former RTF bandmate/guitarist Bill Connors) and headed into Electric Ladyland studios to wreak a little havoc. The first number, "Vulcan Princess," is a high-powered ditty that also appears on Return To Forever's "Where Have I Known You Before" album as "Vulcan Worlds." (I guess he liked it a LOT.) The good news is that he could get away with such shady shenanigans because the song is killer-diller, no matter the moniker. Clocking in at exactly 4 minutes, this is the kind of track that encapsulates all that's great about the genre without belaboring the point. This energy-filled, brass-fortified slice of fusion kicks the front door off its hinges like a SWAT team as Hammer's slinky synth bass line allows Clarke to nimbly peck away in the upper register of his fretboard, adding percussive pops to Williams' dazzling drum work below. Tony is one of the best things about this LP and here he gives you but a small taste of what's to follow. The tune's proggy climax segues smoothly into the obviously- related "Yesterday Princess," a brief but gracefully flowing piece where Jan's acoustic piano and Stanley's upright bass create a serene mood. Clarke also sings a verse or two but it only serves to prove that his voice is unremarkable. Thank God he doesn't overdo it.

"Lopsy Lu" is an up tempo dealie with a "walking" beat that's perfect for a brisk stroll with headphones through the neighborhood to sweat off the excess calories ingested by way of gorging on chocolate icebox pie after supper (although you might want to keep at it for more than the 7 minutes this song allows). There's a faint aroma of the melody from Jimi Hendrix's "Third Stone from the Sun" to be whiffed hither and yon but it's of no consequence as Stanley shows off his amazing mastery of his instrument right off the bat and that's what we came here for, anyway. The musicians allow the number to build steadily via clever interplay between these guys and their acute awareness of the basic principles of dynamics keeps things from spilling over into excess. "Power" is next and it begins with an impressive drum solo from Tony, then slides effortlessly into a straight- ahead rock beat before detouring permanently into Funkytown. First the good news: The perky, ear-catching riff/melody line is the best one on the album and Hammer's Moog solo blazes like a California grass fire. The not-so-good news: Bill Connor's nerve-rattling guitar tone dominates. His too-sporadic, jerky ride is ever so grating and not nearly consistent enough to divert your attention away from the repetitive bass line rumbling underneath. As if recognizing this stagnating situation themselves, the boys finally drop into a monotone, single-chord jam to break things up a tad prior to reaching the abrupt ending.

"Spanish Phases for Strings and Bass" is a welcome change of pace. It's a personal and emotional statement from Clarke as he goes solo on the upright and demonstrates clearly that he's much more than just a gimmicky "bottom slapper." Michael Gibbs' sweet orchestration remains sparse throughout and never becomes intrusive. Very nice music, indeed. "Life Suite" follows and it's the longest, most diverse cut on the album. Part 1 opens with a mysterious aura as the kinetic tension between Jan's piano and Stanley's acoustic bass provides some high drama. Part 2 sees them moving into a peppier pace as strong strings and brass add lightning bolts to the proceedings. Williams finally gets to show his mettle as he slays on the drum kit while the rest of the group stand in awe. And the way his tubs are miked it sounds like you're right there in the booth with him. After that they calm the waters with a slick Latin rhythm where Hammer's hypnotic synth lead manifests pure magic. Part 3 is another short-lived yet beautiful interlude expertly presented. Part 4 incorporates a semi-disco beat (hey, it was all the rage at the time) but that's not the thing that kills it for me. It's Connors' lack of tact. It's admirable that Clarke entrusted him with closing the album and in the early going of his ride his subtle approach is easier to digest but when he cranks up the volume he leaves good taste behind and gets carried away with his John McLaughlin imitations to the extent that you want to snip his Ernie Balls with a wire cutter. Jan and the brass posse arrive late to the wild party but by then there's nothing left but a messy, smoke-filled rec room.

Overall the enthusiasm of the players and the technical difficulty involved in their floor exercises keeps the few flubs and missteps from dragging the endeavor down and the result is a satisfying, fusion-filled journey. There are times when composition-wise it's no more than a glorified jam session with exceptional virtuosos struttin' their top-shelf stuff but when it works, it works big time and a splendid time is had by all. And for Stanley Clarke, the best was yet to come. 3.5 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |

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