CD Review. Stanley Clarke Trio: Jazz in the Garden. (Heads Up). Review by Rob Mallows.(UK release date 29th June 2009)
Many older chaps turn to the garden for solace and inspiration as they approach retirement. Stanley Clarke - bass legend, composer and jazz mentor - has looked out of doors for the theme for his latest album. But, at 57, he shows no signs as yet of wanting either to slow up, or to tend to his roses.
The new trio CD, 'Jazz in the Garden,' marks a departure from his last fusion and funk-inspired album from 2007 - my personal favourite - 'The Toys of Men'. With these new cuts, Clarke goes acoustic and confirms that, unplugged, he's every bit as innovative and melodic on his upright as he is in more familiar guise slapping and popping his Alembic electric bass.
His partners in the trio are veteran sticksman Larry White - recently returned to the stage with Clarke in Return to Forever - and Japanese prodigy Hiromi Uehara (who, Madonna-style, adopts just the single moniker 'Hiromi') ; she has a recognisable contemporary sound, characterised by a flurry of notes and heavy chops mixed with fast tempos, straddling the lines between jazz, fusion and pop. It's the first I've heard of her music - but after this album, I want to hear more.
On 'Jazz in the Garden', all three synchronise well and demonstrate strong musical understanding. It's a trio in which the the bass functions up-front and on equal footing with the piano. Clarke is often playing the melody line while Hiromi's left-hand underscores and deals with the rhythm; in many ways, Hiromi holds her ground completely alongside her far more seasoned band mates, and she does a great job of stamping her style on the trio in her own compositions .
Clarke brings a range of tonal colours to the album, from the insistent beginning to opening track 'Paradigm Shift', to the inevitable - but not overblown - bass solo on 'Bass Folk Songs No. 5 & 6'. Both he and White also bring a lightness of touch which lets Hiromi's piano shine through on the livelier tracks like 'Brain Training'. The album closes with a clever rethinking of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Under the Bridge. Clarke plays the lead on the first round, with Hiromi taking over on the the first verse. Clarke's acoustic bass is up front during the choruses and he leads on the second verse adding in some hardcore riffs which hark back to his earliest albums. White's subtle drumming supports the melancholic mood of the original song, and provides a platform subsequently for Hiromi's freely expressive solo before all three work up a head of steam towards the end. A great track, demonstrating that there are plenty of jazz riches to be found while mining a rock seam.
Though not averse to demonstrating his prowess on upright bass, whether on album or tour, this is Stanley Clarke's first full album as acoustic bandleader and composer (he produced a standards album a few years back), but it doesn't lose anything from the lack of extended low-end slapping and ripped chord strumming. In some ways, it frees him up to explore his more melodic side while still giving him space to get sounds out of an acoustic bass that only he can.
Metaphor time.... For "Jazz in the Garden, " Clarke has weeded the hot-house fusion elements from his lawn. There is a fresh, breezy tone across all the tracks. These are three musicians open to the melodic and rhythmic elements....
Different jazz generations have combined on this album to produce straight-ahead modern jazz which also draws on elements of be-bop and cool jazz, with more than enough innovative elements and brio to ensure it isn't just another trio date. I dig it!
Rob Mallows is organiser of the Premier London Jazz Meetup, which brings together jazz fans around the city for fun and live music.