The Stanley Clarke Band (Heads Up Records)
The Stanley Clarke Band
Released June 15, 2010
Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album 2011
Unlike his previous acoustic bass releases, Clarke feels that this album’s music is fresh and different from just about anything he’s done before. Produced by Clarke and Lenny White, the range of collaborative material on The Stanley Clarke Band has allowed him to venture to new levels of experimentation, utilizing his arsenal of bass instruments. Clarke compares this new release to the first three albums of his solo career: Journey to Love, Stanley Clarke, and School Days, with long extended electric pieces that take the listener on a kind of journey.
“Technically, it’s a Stanley Clarke record, but it’s very much a band-oriented record at the same time,” says Clarke. “I may be the leader, but everyone played an important role in what emerged. If a project like this can be looked at like a ship, I’d be the one steering the ship and keeping everybody on course. But all hands were definitely on deck, and everyone played an important role in getting us to our destination.”
The Stanley Clarke Band received two GRAMMY® nominations: Best Contemporary Jazz Album and the track “No Mystery” was nominated for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.
Also a new foray for Clarke, the album includes original compositions from members of the band. He is joined by Stanley Clarke Band keyboardist Ruslan Sirota and drummer Ronald Bruner, Jr. – who have been performing and recording with him for the better part of five years. Innovative young musicians, they have virtually grown up in Clarke’s band and bring a freshness he admires. Following 2009’s highly-acclaimed Jazz In the Garden, this is featured artist Hiromi Uehara’s second Clarke recording collaboration. Clarke’s rugged and complex bass work serves as the ideal foil for her trademark fiery and expressive piano chops, as reflected through critics’ praising it as “a superb trio effort” (Bass Player) and “one of the best jazz CDs of the year” (San Jose Mercury News).
“There are people on The Stanley Clarke Band other than myself who have something to say,” explains Clarke. “Everyone on this project brought their own music and their own ideas. The styles of the individual tunes may be different, but the continuous thread that runs through the whole record is the fact that we’re all operating as a unit on each track.”
While Hiromi is generally regarded as a solo artist, she shifts effortlessly into a band setting, says Clarke. “She doesn’t need to be on the stage with anybody else, because she’s a phenomenon on the piano,” he says. “But, she likes collaborating with other musicians. She can play faster than anybody, but she can really listen, and she’s right there with you.”
Acoustic pianist/composer/arranger Ruslan Sirota has traveled the world, playing with some of the biggest names in classical and pop music. Born in the Ukraine, he was exposed early in his youth to American jazz and improvisation, and now shows an intelligence and understanding of the genre way beyond his years. “Ruslan is becoming a recognizable force in the music world,” Clarke notes. “He is one of the few musicians I’m aware of that knows a thousand songs. He has a unique understanding of the jazz language.” On this album, Sirota brings an unparalleled contribution in piano performances, not only on keyboard but with his profound melodic techniques on acoustic piano.
Ronald Bruner, Jr., is a second-generation drummer extraordinaire. His earliest influence was his father, Ronald Bruner, Sr., a world class drummer who has performed and recorded with Diana Ross, the Temptations and Gladys Knight. Clarke feels that Bruner is probably one of the most important young drummers on the scene today and compares his innovation, technique and skill to that of the legendary drummer Tony Williams. Although a dynamic fixture in Clarke’s touring band, Bruner has also performed with George Duke, Lee Ritenour, Suicidal Tendencies, and Wayne Shorter.
Among the additional players in the album’s supporting cast are vocalist Cheryl Bentyne (a longtime member of The Manhattan Transfer); guitarists Charles Altura, Rob Bacon, and Armand Sabal-Lecco; saxophonist Bob Sheppard; bass synthesizer Lorenzo “Larry” Dunn (of Earth, Wind & Fire fame); keyboardist Felton Pilate; horn players Andrew Lippman and John Papenbrook; and drum programmers Chris Clarke and Jon Hakakian.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of The Stanley Clarke Band is the exceptionally organic nature of its genesis – the sense of grassroots creativity that existed outside of any efforts to tailor the music to any specific segment of the market. Clarke concludes, “This is the last electric album I’m going to do for awhile. The legacy of this release is that I’m providing lots of material and homework for a new generation of bassists to catch up with. I’ve worked hard to give the bass a distinctive voice, and I feel so excited about where it’s going.”
1. Soldier (Ruslan Sirota) 7:07
2. Fulani (Armand Sabal-Lecco) 6:29
3. Here’s Why Tears Dry (Stanley Clarke) 4:52
4. I Wanna Play for You Too (Felton C. Pilate II) 4:13
5. Bass Folk Song No. 10 (Stanley Clarke) 3:40
6. No Mystery (Chick Corea) 7:09
7. How Is the Weather Up There? (Stanley Clarke / Ronald Bruner, Jr.) 5:54
8. Larry Has Traveled 11 Miles and Waited a Lifetime for the Return of Vishu’s Report [Dedicated to Joe Zawinul] (Stanley Clarke) 6:32
9. Labyrinth (Hiromi) 5:56
10. Sonny Rollins (Stanley Clarke) 8:49
11. Bass Folk Song No. 6 (Mo Anam Cara) (Stanley Clarke) 2:41
Stanley Clarke: acoustic bass, electric bass and vocals
Ruslan Sirota: piano, keyboards and vocals
Hiromi Uehara: keyboards
Ronald Bruner Jr: drums
Charles Altura: guitar (1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8)
Rob Bacon: guitar (4, 10)
Armand Sabal-Lecco: bass (2)
Bob Sheppard: saxophones (8, 10)
Lorenzo ‘Larry’ Dunn: bass synthesiser
Felton Pilate: keyboards and vocals (4)
Andew Lippman: trombone
John Papenbrook: trumpet
Doug Webb: saxophone (10)
Chris Clarke: drum programming (2)
Jon Hakakian: programming (2, 4, 5)
Natasha Agrama and Ilsey Juber: vocals (1)
Cheryl Bentyne: vocals (10)
Recorded at Resonate, Burbank, CA, by Dennis MacKay and Topanga Studio, Topanga, CA, by Gerry “The Gov” Brown
Producer: Stanley Clarke and Lenny White
Mastering: Eddy Schreyer
Mixed by Gerry “The Gov” Brown
Photos of Stanley Clarke: Steve Parke
Stanley Clarke is
still playing the bass the way he wants to, still pulling sounds out of his
assortment of electric, acoustic and Alembic basses like nobody else, and still
slapping, plucking and thumbing his way through contemporary, fusion jazz,
rock, funk and whatever else he puts his mind to.
Clarke honed his craft working with pianist Horace Silver, saxophonists Gato Barbieri and Pharoah Sanders and drummer Art Blakey among others before keyboard player Chick Corea grabbed him for Return to Forever. Clarke enjoys returning the favor to young talent and he’s got plenty to work with here in drummer Ronald Bruner, Jr., keyboardist Ruslan Sirota and – making a return engagement from The Stanley Clarke Trio – Hiromi Uehara on piano. The third member of the trio, Lenny White, is present as well, but trades in his drum seat for the producer’s chair.
There are no radical departures on The Stanley Clarke Band as Clarke seems to be taking a victory lap here, revisiting past triumphs. As he has branched out to scoring films and television, Clarke can do pretty much whatever he wants to as a session musician, producer and bandleader. He seems to have left behind his flirtations with tepid rock ‘n’ roll (such as Rocks, Pebbles and Sand, Epic, 1980) and the lifeless pop of an earlier version of The Stanley Clarke Band, (Find Out!, Epic, 1985).
When you do as many things as well as Clarke, the trick is to find material challenging enough to stretch him and his bandmates. The bassist has both here even if he has to rummage through his back catalog a bit. “No Mystery” revisits his days as the bass master in Return to Forever. The proficiency of Hiromi’s acoustic piano and Sirota’s synthesizer isn’t quite on the same par as Corea, but they’re no slouches and Clarke’s playing is still as energetic as it was in the mid 1970s when RTF was blowing both minds and speakers.
That’s not to diminish
the new stuff at all, as Sirota’s “Soldier” features some dynamic
interplay between the Israel-born keyboardist and Clarke. Armand Sabal-Lecco’s
“Fulani” is old school fusion for the 21st century. Hiromi’s
“Labyrinth” is as dense and moody as its title and the sizzling
“Sonny Rollins” is an all-out rave with Bob Sheppard’s tenor
sax, Cheryl Bentyne’s soaring vocals and a big, brassy horn section
joining in the fun.
Clarke, in all his improvisations and incarnations as an artist, has never distanced himself from his jazz-rock roots. “Larry Has Traveled 11 Miles and Waited a Liftime for the Return of Vishnu’s Report,” despite its clumsy title, is a well-intentioned homage to the genre’s giants including drummer Tony Williams’ Lifetime, Weather Report, trumpeter Miles Davis and Mahavishnu Orchestra among others.
There’s a sense of closure from The Stanley Clarke Band and it’s quite deliberate. Clarke says he’s done with making electric albums for a while. Aged 59, Clarke has considerable and deserved pride in what he’s accomplished as a composer and musician and whatever direction his future endeavors take him in, his legacy is already secured. He is to the electric bass what Jimi Hendrix was to the electric guitar; an unparalleled virtuoso who sets the standard for others to follow even as they create their own legacies.
Jeff Winbush (All About Jazz)