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Legendary bassist Stanley Clarke considers his upcoming Mack Avenue Records release, The Stanley Clarke Band’s UP, to be the most energetic, rhythmic and upbeat album that he has ever done—and with more than 40 solo albums under his belt, that’s saying quite a lot. Clarke’s signature bass virtuosity and technical acumen is present throughout, but the enjoyment he had in making this album is also apparent. Unlike his predominantly acoustic bass work on the last few albums, UP is almost equal parts electric and acoustic bass.
“My aim here was to make a record with my friends. Every single recording session was nothing but fun,” says Clarke. “Surrounding myself with people I enjoy being with made the sessions effortless. Everyone came prepared and ready to play. All were great musicians and they came to the studio to give everything they had.”
Much like his last Grammy® Award-winning album, Stanley Clarke Band, this new release features the inclusion of former bandmates pianist/keyboardist Ruslan Sirota and drummer Ronald Bruner, Jr., who toured with him for seven years and were Clarke’s co-Grammy Award winners for the Best Contemporary Jazz Album of 2011. Two of Clarke’s current touring band members, acoustic pianist Beka Gochiashvili and drummer Mike Mitchell, are also represented on the album. Both are quite young, in their teens, and talented way beyond their years.
Among these other friends Clarke invites to shine on UP are: guitarists Joe Walsh, Jimmy Herring and Paul Jackson, Jr.; drummers Stewart Copeland, Gerry Brown and John Robinson; keyboardist Greg Phillinganes; Phil Davis on synthesizer and keyboards; Chick Corea on acoustic piano; saxophonists Kamasi Washington, Doug Webb and Dan Higgins; vocalists Jessica Vautor, Natasha Agrama and Patrice Quinn; trumpeter Gary Grant and trombonist Andy Martin on horns; percussionist Lenny Castro; Nick Mancini on marimba; and the Harlem String Quartet with violinists Ilmar Gavilán and Melissa White, Jaime Amador on viola and cellist Matthew Zalkind.
The first track on the album, a song with a warm funky and bluesy feel that reminds Clarke of his grandfather, is “Pop Virgil,” featuring Michael Jackson’s session rhythm section: Robinson, Jackson, Jr. and Phillinganes. Clarke considers “Last Train To Sanity” one of the best pieces he has ever written and it is the only track on the album that deals with the music as a film composition. “I’m so glad that the Harlem String Quartet, who I’ve toured with a bit over the last year, was willing to be part of this recording,” says Clarke.
The title track “UP,” is the essence of the album’s sensibilities. “Drummer Stewart Copeland was on my mind with this song,” says Clarke. “His vibe is one of the most upbeat and positive that I know, and that consciousness carries throughout the song.” The bassist also pays homage to George Duke with “Brazilian Love Affair – Dedicated To George Duke,” one of his favorite compositions. A tremendous arrangement augmented by robust rhythms and a vigorous samba predominate the song.
As in previous recordings, Clarke unveils more bass compositions in UP that he has dubbed “Bass Folk Songs.” Clarke says, “They’re very specific compositions. I started writing them when I was much younger and have about 20 now. They are specifically written for a solo bass.” “Bass Folk Song #13: Mingus” is a homage to Charles Mingus done on acoustic bass. “Bass Folk Song #7: Tradition” evolved from thoughts on musicians Clarke played with early in his career including Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Joe Henderson and Stan Getz; ironically it’s an Alembic electric tenor bass solo. And “Bass Folk Song #14: Dance Of The Giant Hummingbird/Bass Song #15: Eleuthera Island” are two Bass Folk Songs put together for solo acoustic bass.
The collaboration is intuitive with former bandmates Sirota and Bruner, Jr. on “I Have Something To Tell You Tonight,” with Washington on sax creating a dreamy improvisational jam. “Trust – Dedicated To Nana” is a straight ahead jazz piece dedicated to Clarke’s daughter Nana (Natasha). It arose from a family discussion one evening, and though lyrics would seem appropriate to convey the conversation, here Clarke captures the feel and emotion of the exchange instrumentally. Ramping up the album’s ambiance again, Clarke and the musicians have fun with “Gotham City.” A fan of superheroes in films and comics since childhood, this is Clarke’s homage to the genre.
“I knew the idea of re-recording ‘School Days’ was potentially dangerous, but just because a song is good and deemed to be a classic doesn’t mean you can’t record it again,” Clarke states. The legendary Jimmy Herring does the dynamic guitar lead on this version and is joined by Gerry Brown, who was the original “School Days” drummer in 1975.
The album concludes with “La Canción de Sofia.” Written for Clarke’s wife Sofia, who is from Chile, this track is a live performance of an acoustic duet with Chick Corea recorded in 2013 at the Kitara Hall in Sapporo, Japan. About Stanley Clarke:
With over 40 albums, four-time Grammy® Award-winner Stanley Clarke has attained “living legend” status. Born in Philadelphia, Clarke has been a constant force of nature in American music since the early 1970s with the success of the jazz-fusion group Return To Forever. During his 45+ year career, he has collaborated with Quincy Jones, Stan Getz, Art Blakey, Paul McCartney, Jeff Beck, Keith Richards, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, The Police, Herbie Hancock and many more. Doubling on acoustic and electric bass with equal ferocity, Clarke was the first jazz-fusion bassist ever to headline tours, selling out shows worldwide. Known for his intense dexterity and consummate musicality, Clarke is a true pioneer in jazz and jazz-fusion. Also an accomplished film and TV composer of over 65 projects, Clarke’s credits include Boyz N The Hood, the Tina Turner biopic What’s Love Got To Do With It, Romeo Must Die, The Transporter and most recently the 2013 blockbuster Best Man Holiday.
His creativity has been recognized and rewarded in every way imaginable: gold and platinum records, Grammy® Awards, Emmy® nominations, a BMI Award, and virtually every reader’s and critic’s poll in existence. He was Rolling Stone’s very first Jazzman of the Year and bassist winner of Playboy’s Music Award for 10 straight years. Clarke was honored with Bass Player Magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award and is a member of Guitar Player Magazine’s “Gallery of Greats.” In 2004 he was featured in Los Angeles Magazine as one of the Top 50 Most Influential People. He was honored with the key to the city of Philadelphia and put his hands in cement as a 1999 inductee into Hollywood’s “Rock Walk” on Sunset Blvd. In 2011 he was honored with the highly prestigious Miles Davis Award at the Montreal Jazz Festival for his entire body of work. Most recently, Clarke won the 2013 Downbeat Magazine’s Reader and Critic Polls for Best Electric Bass Player.
Clarke believes in giving back to help young musicians hone their skills. He and his wife Sofia established The Stanley Clarke Foundation 13 years ago as a charitable organization offering scholarships to talented young musicians each year.
My aim here was to make a record with my friends. Every single recording session was nothing but fun.
The legendary bass player, who basically invented jazz fusion, speaks about his lengthy career—from collaborating with Keith Richards to Paul McCartney to Miles Davis.