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Stanley Clarke - School Days CD (album) cover

SCHOOL DAYS

Stanley Clarke

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.61 | 47 ratings

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Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
3 stars 3.5 stars really!!!

Fourth and best-known album from the now-star bass king with his slapping techniques, although he modestly claims that he only popularized and adapted Family Stone's Larry Graham's inventive playing on the instrument. In either case, it is this album that most people remember, but this proghead prefers the more ambitious previous solo endeavours he made. Just like in his s/t album, Stanley includes a full string section and an extensive horn section as well, but both are (thankfully) used sparingly. Since you don't change a winning formula, this album was again recorded in Hendrix' Electric Ladyland studios and was produced by Ken Scott (Supertramp & Bowie), but this time, for this baby, the stellar cast of guests includes David Sancious (then in E Street Band), McLaughlin, George Duke, Billy Cobham, etc? And it's really too much, because the cohesiveness (shared drum stool between Gadd and Cobham or shared keyboard bench between Sancious and Duke) and the warmth of the album are ruined, breaking the Duke-Gadd pair of the JTL album.

Opening on the extraverted title-track, you're directly taken by the "let's get straight to business" feel and a "get to the point" attitude, doubled by ultra-professional showmanship and awesome mastery of the respective instruments. But what's lacking here is the warmth that one finds in RTF or Mahavishnu. With this track, we're just left with the cold hard facts and technicalities. It doesn't help that the Quiet Afternoon is a little too subdued and "professional", and lets the listener slip into a nap. Later on, The Dancer will pull you from your slumber and draw you into the infernal but repetitive Latino beats with average symphonic synth layers and even-less carelessly-chosen synth cursors twiddlings, the whole thing sounding like a jam. Yes, you're now awake, but nearing boredom, no matter how prestigious the participants are.

The flipside is rather more interesting, opening on the Desert-filled bowed-contrabass, which leads into soft McL guitar arpeggios, but the piece whiffs these sectarian or mystical beliefs constructed by gurus (Clarke's Hubbard included) polluting the musician's minds during those years, but fortunately it doesn't hinder the music. The short string & horns- laden Hot Fun is throwing the album in wild funk territory, which is not exactly intelligent tracks sequencing, since it is sandwiched between two cerebral tunes, the latter being the ambitious 9-mins Life Is Just A Game, the pendant of these suites and lengthy tracks that graced so nicely previous albums of his. Starting almost symphonically, this track reeks the utter-virtuosity of its participants, but here somehow these usually clashing elements click rather well together, including Clarke's brief vocal passage that would not be out of place on Carlos' Borboletta album. It's clearly the album's highlight and features a fairly different Duke-Cobham line-up than the rest of the album (the track was recorded in Los Angeles), and is definitely the more interesting for progheads.

The average JR/F fan might be a tad miffed at my review, because I take a swipe at what many consider an icon, but if you're willing to consider the album from a strictly business and music industry, it'll appear that the strings used to set the canvas are not sowing thread, but more like 50-tons crane lifting cables, and the album loses whatever charms some have chosen to fall under. Don't get me wrong, this is an awesome album in terms of virtuosity and in a way is picture-perfect (well way too much so) but it's also ice-cold, compared with the previously slightly-flawed and exuberant works bearing the SC registered trademark. Prefer his first three albums (including the COF on Polydor) to this overly abundant mass of talent over-shadowing each other. Aside from the final track, School Days is definitely more a Jazz-Funk album than a proggy Jazz-Rock album and augurs Stanley's future musical directions. While I may appear rather tough on this one, I'm still giving the fourth star treatment

Sean Trane | 3/5 |

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