Stanley Clarke Band / Stanley Clarke

The Stanley Clarke Band

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The 2010 self-titled release by the Stanley Clarke Band is aptly titled; it actually feels more like a band record than anything he's done in decades. This isn't saying that Clarke's solo work is somehow less than, but when he surrounds himself with musicians that are all prodigies in their own right, the end results tend to be more satisfying. Produced by Clarke and Lenny White, his band is made up Compton double-kick drum maestro Ronald Bruner, Jr., Israeli pianist/keyboardist Ruslan Sirota, and pianist Hiromi Uehara (aka Hiromi) who plays selectively but is considered a member. There are guests, too, including a horn section, a couple of guitarists in Rob Bacon and Charles Altura, and saxophonist Bob Sheppard. Clarke plays his usual arsenal of basses. Sirota and Hiromi also contribute compositions to the album. They include the former's set opener "Soldier." While its intro is quiet and melodic enough, it evolves, first into a modal study with Clarke playing the melody before it kicks into jazz-rock overdrive with Altura playing a distorted rhythm guitar to Clarke's Alembic tenor bass. Dynamics shift and turn; they make the track a multi-faceted investigation with Sirota's piano solo sourcing both McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock. Hiromi's "Labyrinth" melds elements of "My Favorite Things" to modern post-bop and classical architectures; the breakbeats by Bruner add a funky touch, and Clarke's layered basses become a focal foil for the piano. There is also an updated reading of Chick Corea's "No Mystery," from Clarke's days with Return to Forever, that captures the tune's near transcendent curiosity without trying to re-create it. The drama brought by Clarke's bass is tense and declamatory. "Sonny Rollins" contains the theme from "Don't Stop the Carnival" and is Caribbean-flavored, but pays tribute to the saxophonist's entire career. Written by Clarke, it contains wonderfully knotty passages on acoustic as well as electric basses; Sheppard's fine soloing and fills make it a jumper. "I Wanna Play for You Too" is funkily self-explanatory for Clarke fans, while "Bass Folk Song #10" is a gorgeous solo piece. "Fulani" is an excellent piece of contemporary fusion, where "Larry Has Traveled 11 Miles and Waited a Lifetime for the Return of Vishnu's Report," dedicated to Joe Zawinul, is a clumsy, failed attempt at summing up the music's history to date. The ballads, including "Bass Folk Song No. 6," which closes the set, work less well, but these are minor complaints on an otherwise fine recording.

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