Sunday, February 28, 2016

Stanley Clarke - 1974 "Stanley Clarke"

Stanley Clarke is the second album of jazz fusion bassist Stanley Clarke. This is a classic in the jazz rock fusion genre. Highly electric featuring an all-star band of Stanley Clarke, Jan Hammer, Bill Connors, and the incomparable Tony Williams. To listen to this album/cd at less than full volume does not do it justice.

No one ever accused Return to Forever of playing too few notes, and bass wonder Stanley Clarke commits a few similar sins of excess on his first solo album (see "Life Suite, Parts 1-4"). But, hey, this was 1975, and there's no denying Clarke's genius for sublime grooves and fancy fretwork. As funky as Larry Graham and more fun than Jaco Pastorius, he moves agilely between the convoluted pleasures of "Lopsy Lu" and the more highbrow charms of "Spanish Phases for String and Bass." The album is one of the best showcases for Clarke's mastery of both double bass and electric.

While some jazz purists will detest this LP for it's marriage of jazz improvisation and rock, the simple truth is, "Stanley Clarke" (both the LP and the man)are stunning and ingenious. The late, great Tony Williams is volcanic in his drumming, notice how he plays slightly behind the bass on "Lopsy Lu", or plays in circles around guitarist Bill Connors on Part IV of the "Life Suite"? There is not a wasted note here and listeners who are looking for 'light' or 'smooth' jazz are barking up the wrong tree! Clarke himself is an astounding bassist and takes on shades of Charles Mingus on "Phases for Strings and Bass" and all of the opening "Vulcan Princess". Electro-funk, hard rock and jazz rarely live on the same street these days, but this kind of adventurous music making(a treasure for us more discriminating music lovers)tells me that the 3 should visit each other more frequently. Stanley Clarke is the man! 

This was one of the best jams of it's time.If you ever heard Tony in the mid to late 60ies with miles you know how fast his foot work was. He takes it to a new high on this whole jam sesson. And you know how Stanley got down. anyone who cant understant this fusion all time great. Dont know Jazz. I am very very happy to have this calabaration of Rock&Jazz to my long list of unforgetable moments in Jazz history.

Tony Williams on drums, Jan Hammer on keyboards, Bill Conners on guitar and, of course, Stanley on bass(es). The pedigree of this line up rivals any, and when the Jazz Fusion style of this album is considered, this line up is as close to unbeatable as can be. Even relative unknown NoCal guitarist Bill Conners steps up with impressive performances. Tony's driving, if not frenetic style and Jan's melodic fills compliment Stanley's virtuoso. For fans of Jazz Fusion, or Stanley, this recording is a must. It will be tough to remove from your changer. As an aside I would like to mention that Stanley released an album previous to this as a solo artist. It is called "Stan Clarke: Children of Forever. Chick Corea, Pat Martino, Andy Bey, Dee Dee Bridgewater. Not Fusion, not pure jazz. Well worth checking out (especially "Bass Folk Song). 

I first heard "Stanley Clarke" way back in the mid seventies. I was in a rock band while I was in high school, and the bass player played the album for me in his basement. I had never heard a bass sound the way Clarke's did: more of a lead rather than rhythm or "bottom" instrument. My reaction was "Who is this dude?"

"Stanley Clarke" is full of fine performances: keyboardist Jan Hammer, guitar player Bill Connors, Clarke himself, and the guy who steals the show from everyone else, the legendary Tony Williams. Williams does amazing work throughout this album, but his solos on "Power" and "Life Suite" are simply incredible. In the second movement of "Life Suite", Williams' solo is otherworldly; the work he does on the high hat, bass drum and toms is beyond anything I have ever heard in my 50 years. Williams then moves on to cover what seems like every single piece of his drum kit: toms, cymbals, high hat, and snare-and he does it with such fluidity and speed that it seems like there is more than one person playing simultaneously. When the song drops in volume and tempo, Williams then does a sort of "background solo" with rim shots on his snare drum.

This is tremendous stuff. "Stanley Clarke" is perhaps not as polished as some of his later solo works such as "School Days" or "Journey to Love", but it is still a marvel to behold. The big thing is Tony Williams is on this album, and not the others. The only reason I subtract one star is Stanley somehow thought he could pull off what he thought would pass for singing on "Yesterday Princess". Maybe he got the idea from Tony, who also "sang" on his "Lifetime" albums. Bad idea for both of them...

More than 30 years hence "Stanley Clark" can still tingle my spine when I listen to "Life Suite"! As far as I'm concerned, that qualifies this album as a classic.

Stanley Clarke is Jazz Fusion Bass. There is not now, never was, and never will be an equivalent . Few artist achieve instant greatness with their solo debut album...Stanley did. The opening cut..."Vulcan Princess"...winds its way from a sassy rythmic dance, into a bold, fully ripe melody, fermenting into a beautifully eerie vocal ballad of love and longing. "Vulcan Princess" leads-sans pause- into a (now classic) string popping, synchopathic jaunt through the spacey landscape which is titled "Yesterday Princess". "YP creates musical slices of synthesizer, electric guitar and percussion which seem to fragment, then cascade back together, pulled sytematically into line by the ever present "syncho-Stanley- pops". The "Princess" tunes are wonderful introductions for the middle of the six tune album...they make us like Stanley, appreciate Stanley, recognize that Stanley is an extremely passionate and talented musical poet. Tunes 3 and 4, "Lopsy Lu" and "Power" creep up on you teasing with an underlying, pseudo-subtle flavor of the beast which lurks in the fantastic fingers of Monsieur Clarke. "Lopsy" is poignant. "Power" is, well... powerful. The next cut "Spanish Phases for Strings and Bass" is moody,seductive, occassionaly lilting, nearly passifying. The "SPfSaB" calms you, soothes you, puts you at just the right place to best handle the adrenelaine shot to the heart that concludes the album...The final cut "Life Suite" states simply that if life starts with a slap on the rear and a surely ends with a hard swift kick in the pants and a passionate scream. That's Stanley....

Tracks Listing

1. Vulcan Princess (4:00)
2. Yesterday Princess (1:41)
3. Lopsy Lu (7:03)
4. Power (7:20)
5. Spanish Phases for Strings & Bass (6:26)
6. Life Suite
Part I - 1:51
Part II - 4:12
Part III - 1:03
Part IV - 6:41

Total Time 40:31


    Stanley Clarke - acoustic and electric basses, guitar, piano, vocals
    Jan Hammer - acoustic and electric pianos, organ, Moog synthesizer
    Bill Connors - acoustic and electric guitars
    Tony Williams - drums
    Airto Moreira - percussion
    Peter Gordon, Jon Faddis, James Buffington, Lew Soloff, Garnett Brown - brasses
    David Taylor - brasses, trombone
    David Nadien, Charles McCracken, Jesse Levy, Carol Buck, Beverly Lauridsen, Harry Cykman, Harold Kohon, Paul Gershman, Harry Lookofsky, Emanuel Green - string section
    Michael Gibbs (string & brass arrangement)

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