“I’m wondering how the hell you all fit in here,” are Stanley Clarke’s opening words as he surveys the scene with a flick of his head – and Prog is inclined to agree.
Stockholm’s venerable jazz club Fasching, which is shaped like a glorified rectangle and has a maxed-out capacity of 600, is certainly busy. And with the floor-level stage marooned in the middle of it all, it’s difficult to see Return To Forever bassist Clarke and his backing trio unless you’ve managed to bribe your way on to one of the illustrious ringside table seats; tonight’s holy grail, it seems.
Even if most of the audience can’t see too much of the main event, at least the tunes speak for themselves. Brazilian Love Affair is a clever choice for starters, with its samba rhythms interwoven with fusion and instrumental prog chops to create a cosy aura.
The Stanley Clarke Band’s 2014 album Up was relatively melody and structure-orientated, but the US veteran and his prodigious bandmates – who are barely twenty-something – prefer a smorgasbord of improvised jams, with powerhouse drummer Michael Mitchell going from nought to monster solo in just 10 minutes. In fact, despite Clarke having his name in the shining lights, it’s his group, who are completed by spider-fingered pianist Beka Gochiashvili and keyboard player Cameron Graves, that constantly threaten to steal the show.
Amid all the instrumental flurries, which are so effortlessly punctuated by Clarke’s fluid bass work and steel-digited panache, comes a cameo by the main man’s daughter and rising vocalist Natasha Agrama, who piques interest mid-set. ‘What is love’ the singer seductively croons, but sadly, she only sticks around for one tune. Nevertheless, the quartet maintain the flow with a reworked version of Return To Forever’s No Mystery.
“By the way, this is difficult,” Clarke quips before he takes a mental deep breath and opens the song, which melts into a melee of bass notes and drum smacks that ping and ricochet around each corner of the room like musical bouncy balls.
And with an extended, unleashed version of the peppy and popular, electric bass-driven School Days as an encore – this set’s Tom Sawyer or Enter Sandman, it seems – the crowd go home happy – even if all they saw for half of the gig was the back of that bald man’s head in front of them.