One of the most influential electric bass players of his (and possibly any) generation, Stanley Clarke has worked with the cream of jazz, jazz-funk, rock and fusion musicians over the years – everyone from Chick Corea (in Return To Forever) and Stan Getz, to Jeff Beck and Flea.
His reach goes far beyond his astonishing playing for fans of such mainstream (and more selective) musical styles though – as a composer of film and TV soundtracks, his work has even permeated through to an unwitting general public.
His first studio release for four years, Up showcases Clarke’s wide-ranging talents and those of his many friends and collaborators. He runs through the possibly expected gamut of styles: jazz-funk (emphasis on the funk) and jaw-dropping bass work in opening track Pop Virgil; the slow, hip West Coast fusion of I Have Something To Tell You Tonight and the more frenetic jazzy work-out of Gotham City. His small acoustic jazz combo runs both cool and hot on Trust (Dedicated To Nana) and a re-working of one of his early career defining tunes, the stupidly catchy (and, for bass players, deceptively tricky) School Days.
Other tracks introduce us to other facets of Clarke’s output. Last Train To Sanity melds elements of what could be a short animation feature soundtrack with almost Zappa-esque strings, piano and tuned percussion. Brazilian Love Affair (Dedicated To George Duke) injects a samba vibe to proceedings, incorporating the only lyrics to be found on the album. Then, lest we forget both his playing abilities and musical roots, he features four of what he terms his ‘bass folk songs’, achingly lovely, short free-form jazz pieces on solo electric or upright bass. Here these include #13 – Mingus and #7 – Tradition.
It’s not unusual for such projects to feature some of the artist’s past collaborators, and it’s a measure of Clarke’s involvements over the years that this album has appearances from over 30 high-calibre guests. Greg Phillinganes, Lenny Castro, John Robinson, and Gerry Robinson all pop up, and the title track’s punchy, upbeat groove comes from one Stewart Copeland, the guitar from Joe Walsh. Chick Corea turns in some gorgeous piano on a track recorded live, La Canción de Sofia (some truly beautiful cello here too).
Clarke’s now into his 60s, and one suspects he is unconcerned about pandering to any specific market. Thankfully, this has resulted in a diverse and classy collection of tunes, which demonstrate his very considerable compositional, technical and improvisational skills.