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Stanley Clarke

Jazz Rock/Fusion

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Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
5 stars Stanley Clarke's self titled second album is right up there with the best of the seventies' fusion albums. It should be. Clarke assembled a band made up of some of the greatest fusion musicians of the time. Bill Connors and Airto, both of whom had played with Clarke in Return To Forever, Jan Hammer, keyboardist extrordinaire from the Jeff Beck Group, and amazing drummer Tony Williams.

The songs, while all bass driven, are fantastic. Any one of them would have fit in perfectly on the classic RTF albums. "Lopsy Lu" has become a classic. As far as I know, it's one of the earliest fusion songs where you here a bass playing performing a rhythm and melody simultaneously on the same instrument, without overdubbing. This piece has been a staple of Clarke's live perfomances ever since.

"Spanish Phases for Strings & Bass" features an acoustic bass solo as only Clarke can play it. And the rest of the band is amazin throughout as well.

If you are a bass lover, or a fusion lover, this album is a must!

Report this review (#224840)
Posted Tuesday, July 7, 2009 | Review Permalink
Easy Money
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Stanley Clarke's second outing shows him taking on that heavy progressive rock influenced fusion style that he helped pioneer in Return to Forever. This album is good, but it doesn't quite match RTF or fellow rockin fusioneers like Mahavishnu and Jeff Beck when it comes to brilliance and striking compositions. Still, I think most fans of 70s fusion would find a lot to like here.

The album opens with Vulcan Princess which recalls RTF's No Mystery with it's weird synth driven futuristic rock/funk. Former RTF guitarist Bill Connors turns in some blazing solos on this one. Clarke follows with a short thoroughly embarrassing vocal number about a Vulcan Princess called Yesterday Princess. Yeah, I don't get it either, best just to remove this song with your pocket knife or straight razor.

Anyway, Lopsy Lu gets us back on track with some great triplet swing funk grooves and a killer bass line that had all the bass players in the world trying to learn how to get that Stanley Clarke thump-pop sound. This is the kind of groove that Jeff Beck and Jan Hammer would exploit big time in their many outings together. Power starts as a decent but somewhat plodding fusion rock song that improves considerably when the band breaks into a high speed ascending chord progression while Bill Connor and Tony Williams tear it up.

Side two opens with the classical/jazz composition Spanish Phases for Strings and Bass. Clarke's string orchestrations are outstanding and highly original, but unfortunately they take a back seat to what sounds like a lengthy string bass solo. The album closes with Life Suite, an ambitious mix of driving progressive rock influenced fusion, funk/jazz and semi- classical orchestrations. Some sections of this lengthy number go on a little too long.

With two members of RTF on board, plus Jan Hammer and Tony Williams, it is a pretty safe bet that fans of the electric RTF, Mahavishnu and the later version of Lifetime, as well as any other heavy rockin fusion band, will probably dig Stanley's sometimes brilliant sophomore effort.

Report this review (#225613)
Posted Thursday, July 9, 2009 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars This really is a "can't miss" lineup with bassist Stanley Clarke enlisting the help of his former bandmate from RETURN TO FOREVER Bill Connors (he played on "Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy") on lead guitar, the great Tony Williams on drums and Jan Hammer on keyboards. Wow ! This can get pretty explosive at times which for me always brings MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA to mind, but there is quite a bit of variety here. Stanley thanks Chick Corea among others in the liner notes.

"Vulcan Princess" kicks in quickly and check out Williams as Connors starts to play over top. It then changes to a funky groove. Connors is back 2 1/2 minutes in. Nice. Keys a minute later then it kicks in MAHAVISHNU-like to end it. "Yesterday Princess" is the only track with vocals and it's quite mellow, but it's barely over 1 1/2 minutes in length. "Lopsy Lu" is funky with some nice bass early. It's fuller 2 minutes in. Guitar before 3 minutes then Hammer takes the lead. They take turns as the funky rhythm continues. Check out Williams after 5 1/2 minutes. "Power" opens with drums which are incredible as Tony solos for a minute. Synths swoosh in then the whole band. Check out Hammer after 2 minutes. Love the rhythm too. Connors proceeds to rip it up for over 3 minutes ! Impressive ! "Spanish Phases For Strings & Bass" opens with Clarke soloing on his bass until we get a change after 2 minutes as strings come in briefly. Back to solo bass as the contrasts continue. Check out the bass before 5 minutes ! "Life Suite" is the almost 14 minute closer. Acoustic guitar to open as keys and strings come in. It kicks in at 2 minutes to an uptempo pace. I love Williams' drum work. It settles 4 1/2 minutes in. More strings after 6 minutes with piano. A nice groove takes over after 7 1/2 minutes. Connors comes in tastefully as the sound builds. He's lighting it up 10 1/2 minutes in. Great sound ! Williams is so good 12 minutes in.

Easily 4 stars and yes, a lot of exclamation points.

Report this review (#230296)
Posted Thursday, August 6, 2009 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#236742)
Posted Thursday, September 3, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Stanley Clarke second solo album has great list of participated musicians: Stanley's RTF colleague guitarist Bill Connors, Tony Williams and Ian Hammer, plus Airto Moreira. And music presented there is good. But not excellent.

In fact, all this work sounds very much as RTF or Mahavishnu Orchestra side-project. Great musicians, plenty of nice musical moments. Very competent jazz fusion, even with some harder moments. Clarke's bass is significant as usual. I don't like too much Connor's guitar work, but I must agree he plays very competent here.

So - what is a problem? I think ,there are two reasons, why this work is far not a masterpiece. First of all - composition. Separate pieces, moments and nuances sound great, but not a whole music. Mostly because there is no a whole music like that. Just huge collection of great and not so great musical sketches.

And the other reason I believe Stanley just tried to stay on a safe side there. All you will hear is nice, but heard many times before. No experimentation, not even small new spark. Just great safe music, played by one of the best fusion musicians of their time.

Really nice work for fans and collectors, but searching for essential jazz fusion just try in the other place.

Report this review (#281759)
Posted Thursday, May 13, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars It may be valid to say that Stanley Clarke's compositions lack song writing acumen. But this is his best release featuring several songs with punchy rhythms and a hook. Once you've heard it some of the licks will stick in your head and you won't forget them. The songs in this album embody the essence of Stanley Clarke. For fusion fans this is a must have album. You're also getting the touch of Jan Hammer. His playing isn't overly busy which can be typical of many jazz compositions. Overall the music has distinctive instrument sounds, featuring Stanley Clarke's bass and Jan Hammer's keyboards. The combination gives listeners a sound that rock fans would soak up.
Report this review (#281914)
Posted Friday, May 14, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars Although some of Stanley Clarke's later solo material--way too much in fact for my tastes--is hit or miss, this album is quite solid throughout. Maybe part of that is because this is the album with Tony Williams! There's no denying that Clarke and Williams have a great chemistry throughout this album, and it seems that the other players, notable they may have been, seem to understand this.

You'd think the highlight would be the 14 minute Life Suite, but I probably prefer Power and Lopsy Lu just a bit more because they are a bit more concise. Sometimes I've wondered about the fuzz generated by both Williams and Clarke, but on these tracks they leave nothing on the table, through playing in synch, playing off each other, and getting out of each other's way when necessary. Life Suite is also generally good, but it takes a while to get going. The last 7 minutes are just a simple riff by Clarke that keeps getting fatter, with everyone playing out until the horns come in at the end. Great groove, and I like Connors' addition (though not so impressed Hammer's soloing).

This was a good way for me to get to know Stanley and some of the fusion boys. Later on, things would start to sound a bit stale and overproduced, but here there is plenty of good rocking out and nice playing. This doesn't really add anything new to the fusion scene, but it's definitely solid most of the way through.

Report this review (#285562)
Posted Tuesday, June 8, 2010 | Review Permalink
The Quiet One
3 stars Return to Forever featuring... Jan Hammer

Stanley Clarke's sophomore effort can be considered as a spin-off of Return to Forever's 1973-74 period. It's still not the highly technical prog-esque fusion of Romantic Warrior; this album stays within the more groovy style of Where Have I Known You Before though not as polished nor as exciting.

Oddly enough, Al Di Meola is not on board, while Bill Connors, who had left Return to Forever after recording Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy, is here instead, showing what he could have done with RtF if he had stayed a bit longer. Also, there's Jan Hammer on the keyboards, always a pleasure to listen to his unique Moog in a fusion record. On the drums there's the long time Davis partner, Tony Williams, doing a great job "replacing" Lenny White. In addition to the "classic" Return to Forever line-up (keys, drums, guitar and bass), there's Airto Moreira once again who had played drums on the first two RtF albums, here he's adding some percussion, and then there's some occasional brass and strings, a new feature to the "Return to Forever fusion sound".

The album opens itself decently with a remake of 'Vulcan Worlds', the great opener of Return to Forever's fourth album. This time it's called 'Vulcan Princess' and it's even funkier with Stanley's slapping. The following tune entitled 'Yesterday Princess' is a gentle piano/upright bass-led song, it's a song because Stanley sings. It's a nice short tune.

'Lopsy Lu' and 'Power' are two instrumentals where the whole potential of the quartet is shown; groovy and fast bass lines, distorted guitar solos, relentless drumming and funky Moog fills.

Like almost every album by a solo musician, the musician gives himself a space to demonstrate his skills. This is the case of 'Spanish Phases for Strings & Bass' where Stanley picks up the upright bass and is accompanied by some strings. It's a rather forgettable tune, unless you're a big fan of the upright bass.

The album finishes with an almost 14 minute suite called 'Life'. Though not brilliant or as exciting as 'Song for the Pharoah Kings', this suite is still an enjoyable piece of fusion with excellent bass playing, catchy hooks and great performances from the rest of the members, but really as a whole it seems average, nothing thrills you that much.

So Stanley Clarke's self-titled album is indeed a must-have for Return to Forever fans for it displaying RtF- like compositions but with other musicians and with an emphasize on the bass. However, I wouldn't call this excellent because the compositions aren't that great nor anything really fresh, though this is not generic jazz funk as there would later be, the execution of the ideas here are not great.

3 stars: recommended to the funk-fusion fan and to the Return to Forever fan, of course.

Report this review (#299746)
Posted Sunday, September 19, 2010 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
4 stars Clarke second and self-titled solo album shows a distinct evolution along the RTF lines, and not only with the label change from Polydor to Columbia's subsidiary Epic label. Sometimes considered by some as Stanley's real solo debut, because it features the famous "brown" electric bass; even if the back picture still shows him on the contrabass. Guest feature RTF"s Bill Connors, Ex-Mahavishnu (and future Jeff Beck Group) Jan Hammer and Lifetime's Tony Williams (another teen prodigy) on drums, but there is a string section and a horn section as well. This album was recorded at Hendrix' Electric Ladyland by Ken Scott (of Elton, Supertramp and Bowie fame), but it is not that much a rockier album than RTF or other SC albums.

If the previous COF was reminiscent of the first RTF era (a "Farellian" flute and Piurimist vocals), this album is much more in the solid JR/F mould, not too far from Where I Have I or No Mystery, even if Connors's guitar would have (misleadingly) thinking of Seventh Hymn. The main improvement of this s/t album over COF, is that it is mostly instrumental, sometimes maybe a tad too much so (I'm simply never satisfied, uh??), with only the short Yesterday Princess, where Stanley sings and plays piano. Hammer handles the rest of the keyboards, more in the style of his own solo debut or Beck mode, than in the Mahavishnu mode. Opening on the dynamite RTF-imprinted Vulcan Princess, the album's first side glides smoothly onto the Lopsy Lu funk-jazz (much reminiscent of No Mystery), before ending on a Hammer-dominated Power, where Williams' drumming might appear a bit too binary.

The flipside opens of the awesome Flamenco & classical Spanish Phases, where Stanley lets its bass rip your woofer's membranes over delicate strings arrangements, an amazing showpiece for Clarke's bass abilities. The album ends on the four-movement near 14- mins Life Suite, the album's apex, with some of the hottest RTF-like JR/F ever, but also the proggiest as well. Indeed, the mood and breaks are constantly changing and often much subtler than on most prog albums. Connors shines on the electric guitar, even if he always was more at ease on the acoustic, but you'd never guess it by listening to this track's mammoth solo.

Considered by many to be Clarke's best solo piece - I'm pretty close to thinking so myself ? it certainly is one of the genre's cornerstone on which it was built upon. Actually this is not Stanley's best-selling album (that'll be the upcoming School Days), but it's certainly the most impressive for progheads.

Report this review (#310325)
Posted Wednesday, November 10, 2010 | Review Permalink
Eclectic Prog Team
4 stars On this eponymous second solo album, Stanley Clarke, as a rhythm man, is fond of the formula of playing a line, and playing very similar one at a lower pitch. As a soloist, he tears up his instruments without mercy, choking nearly every traditional sound out of four strings- pops, slaps, slides, growls, and more. Littered with funkadelic bass grooves, the music remains at once accessible and challenging.

"Vulcan Princess" The backbone of this slippery opener is a spurting, growling bass riff. It blends symphonic progressive rock with frantic jazz funk. This is a rendering of the tune "Vulcan Worlds" from Return to Forever's Where Have I Known You Before, released that same year, which is interesting since Bill Connors plays the guitar on this album, having just left Return to Forever and being replaced by a 19-year-old Al Di Meola, so this is an opportunity to compare styles.

"Yesterday Princess" "Vulcan Princess" drifts right into this calmed piano and vocal piece, offering a more restful experience.

"Lopsy Lu" Clarke dives into a bass solo over a bed of easygoing drums, and other instruments join in soon enough. This shows the man's versatility both as a soloist and in a supportive role. The keyboards are lot of fun here, warbling all over the place, and the electric guitar adds significant bite.

"Power" After a wild drum solo of an introduction, the music settles into a psychedelic pop-and-slap groove, augmented by electric piano and biting guitar. While it remains interesting and energetic throughout, it is little more than a repetitive jam with a few progressive passages and an exciting build to a climax of electric guitar screaming.

"Spanish Phases for Strings & Bass" As the name might suggest, this is a quieter piece, and involves Clarke having at an upright.

"Life Suite" Acoustic guitar and piano play gently yet unsettlingly. The second part launches into a powerful passage of quick, hypnotic jazz with grand brass flourishes, although I can't say I care for the sputtering drumming. The sliding bass riff during the synthesizer solo is mesmerizing also. Part three is elegantly pleasing, almost classical music. The fourth and final part of the suite adopts an almost disco vibe, led by Clarke's spunky bass riff, with a volley of electric guitar shot over it. The eerie bit that opened the suite briefly returns to conclude it.

Report this review (#721070)
Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars I do not know if Fusion is a branch of Progressive. Fusion is certainly a branch of Jazz. However, it is no longer a Jazz Jazz but a mix of Jazz & Rock music with other genres, marked on a chaotic mix programmed with extreme difficulty executive. Without going into speeches of little interest here, is to frame the right thing, so that certain artists become easy to understand. Let's face it, this is the case of Stanley Clarke, bassist of the best I ever have heard.

"Stanley Clarke" (his second solo album) is a clear example of Rock & Jazz, Classic Fusion in short, dominated by guitar and bass guitar. In it we also find a great deal of melody, something that might be interesting, except that it is Rock part, Hard Rock. Technically, "Stanley Clarke" is a Jazz album, not unlike many others. Yet it has something mystical, innovative Rock field. Not by chance, I like it if I consider it a great Rock album with Jazz compositions.

However, I must say, sincerely, that "Stanley Clarke" is an album that I just heard but that I understood immediately. Say with certainty that the work of Stanley Clarke is astounding technique and heat, the guitar of Bill Connors is very hard rock and very addictive, as is technical and full of heat the drums of Tony Williams. In all this it should be noted that "Stanley Clarke" has aged very well indeed.

In concluding these brief notes, I can not say that "Stanley Clarke" is a masterpiece of Prog. However, it is a masterpiece of fusion and of 70's music.

Report this review (#765349)
Posted Wednesday, June 6, 2012 | Review Permalink

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