To be on the road seems to be the default condition of the virtuoso bassist Stanley Clarke, who turned 60 today. Having spent much of the past year-and-change touring with three of his own ensembles, the forty-year veteran launches his seventh decade tomorrow with the second, European leg of a four-stage mega-tour with Chick Corea’s reconstituted Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy edition of Return to Forever, with Lenny White on drums, Jean-Luc Ponty on violin, and Frank Gambale on guitar.
Clarke’s bona fides are too well known to require recitation here. I met him about 18 months ago, when he consented to sit for the DownBeat Blindfold Test in his midtown hotel room, using his Mac laptop to listen to the selections. There were time constraints, so I presented fewer selections than would normally be the case.
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PROLOGUE: “There’s a few musicians I know who absolutely, in all the years I’ve known them, have never said a bad thought about another musician, and one of those guys is Herbie Hancock. He’s a guy who could get a pass on saying, “that is a piece of shit!” He’s such a great musician, he’s done so many monumental records. I’ve been with Herbie where he’s talked about some of the most, for lack of a better word, amoebic musicians. He’ll say, “But see, that’s nice.” He could even say, “Man, nice shirt that guy has on. Cool instrument.” I really respect, and I’m trying really hard to adopt that way of looking at music. It makes you look deeper. Then again, why should someone have to have spent so many hours, as I did, playing the acoustic bass or studying with the teachers I had? I had this problem when I first listened to hip-hop music. “They’re not playing anything!” but then once I got into it, looking at how these guys grew up, what they had and what they were able to do with just what they had, it’s totally legitimate.”
1. Christian McBride, “The Wizard of Montara” (from VERTICAL VISION, Warner, 2003) (McBride, acoustic and electric bass; Ron Blake, tenor saxophone; Geoff Keezer, piano, keyboards; Terreon Gully, drums; Daniel Sadownick, percussion)
I have no idea who that is. I don’t want to know why I want to say maybe it’s Avishai Cohen, but I don’t think it’s him. It was a good band. The composition was really good. I thought that the bass player swung pretty good. The drummer sounded young to me, though. Could of swung a little more. But there wasn’t a lack of enthusiasm; I’ll give it that. It was pretty enthusiastic. Was that a bow solo in the middle or was it an electric bass? I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure whether it was something processed. That was nice. Also, there was something that, being an older guy, I’d say sounded almost like a ring modulator, which is unusual for straight-ahead music. But actually, that was refreshing, because it was something different. The track had a good feel. It was really spirited. When I listen to straight-ahead music, swinging music, the most important thing to me is that it swing, and on a swing scale this was a good 3½ stars.
2. Ben Wolfe, “Jackie Mac” (from NO STRANGERS HERE, MaxJazz 2008) (Wolfe, bass, composer; Marcus Strickland, tenor saxophone; Jesse Mills, Cyrus Beroukhim, violin; Kenji Bunch, viola; Wolfram Koessel, cello; Luis Perdomo, piano; Greg Hutchinson, drums)
I liked that. It was swinging. These guys sound like they’ve swung a lot in their lives. They don’t sound like young guys to me. But then, who knows? I liked the string attempt there. It’s always nice to hear in swing music…I always like it when I can hear something new, something refreshing in there. A cool composition. I liked the whole tone aspect there. The bass player was nice, but I wish he was recorded better. I always get upset when I hear basses who are not recorded well. He played some notes that were really nice that were buried a bit—the piano accompaniment was louder than the bass at certain points. But it was a good recording. 3½ stars.
3. John Patitucci, “Messaien’s Gumbo” (from REMEMBRANCE, Concord, 2009) (Patitucci, 6 string electric bass; Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone; Brian Blade, drums)
That was a nice feel. I liked it. The bassist was playing the 6-string bass really nice. When it went into the real upper register I thought it was John Patitucci, but I’m not good at naming people, so then I thought it wasn’t him either.. But everyone seemed comfortable with that way of swinging. The drummer was really good, I thought. The tune was cool. The thing I liked is that there was a lot of space, and the tune was based off of a bassline. I love great basslines, and that was a really melodic bassline. That to me is a sign of a good bass player, if he has a good bassline. Matter of fact, I still hear that bassline ringing in my head. Very creative, and the space was really good. 3½ stars.
4. Reggie Workman, “Medea” (from Trio 3, TIME BEING, Intakt, 2002) (Workman, bass, composer; Oliver Lake, alto saxophone; Andrew Cyrille, drums)
Was there an extra percussion, or was it overdubbed? Just three guys? At first I thought the percussionist was another player. The rest of the track was so spontaneous and true, it would have been better if they’d had another guy, rather than the overdubbed percussion—it was like someone put a blanket on it. It was cool. I liked the bow sounds. Do they still call this stuff free-form music? It’s not my particular taste, but it was spirited. 3 stars. I don’t like to judge someone on their technical expertise, but from what I could hear, the saxophone player had good command. I couldn’t tell so much with the bass. The bass could have been recorded better. With the percussion, they used the echo, kind of like a blanket, so the perspective was different than the other instruments. Hard to tell whether they’re older or younger musicians. I’m from the time that I listened to the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Archie Shepp, and all. But the saxophone player had a nice tone.
5. James Genus, “I Fall In Love Too Easily” (from Manuel Valera, CURRENTS, MaxJazz, 2009) (Valera, piano; Genus, bass; Ernesto Simpson, drums)
That was really nice. I love the tune. They had an arrangement. They had a great command of their instruments. The bass player was really good; you could tell he’s studied the bass well. They played very lyrical. That’s jazz to me. The piano was excellent. They had a lot of space. Even though these guys have a lot of technique, a lot of knowledge in what they’re doing, the chords and harmonically, they were very patient players. That’s a hard to during recordings. Sometimes a recording sounds better when it’s relaxed, and someone took their time, and they show some patience in their playing. A really good recording. 4½ stars.
6. Alain Perez, “Donna Lee (Doña Líos)” (from EN EL AIRE, Ayva, 2005) (Alain Pérez, electric bass, vocals, djembe; Iván Lewis “Melón”, piano; Kiki Ferrer, drums; Pepe Espinosa, congas; Carlos Sarduy, trumpet; Román Filiu, alto saxophone; Inoidel Gonzales, tenor saxophone)
At first I thought it was Victor Bailey, because I know he likes to take those kind of tunes and play the heads on them. But when it got to the bass solo, I knew it wasn’t Victor. Then I thought it might be one of these tribute records to Jaco, and this is one of the tunes he used to do, but then I thought, “No, I don’t think that’s it either.” A little too much percussion. But I really liked the arrangement. The bass player was excellent. It takes a lot of command to play that head. On the solo, I couldn’t tell…I wasn’t sure whether he was playing on the same tune or not. 3½ stars. That was interesting. I got into the tune, and I thought they were going to continue to go in that direction, but they didn’t, which was cool. But he sounded like a different player in the middle.
7. Miroslav Vitous, “Surfing with Michel” (from REMEMBERING WEATHER REPORT, ECM, 2009) (Vitous, bass, composer; Michel Portal, clarinet)
I like what they did with that theme…at first I thought it was a 4-note theme, but maybe an 8-note, 9-note theme. It reminded me a melody that Wayne Shorter would write. At first I thought it was Bennie Maupin, but I don’t think it was. I really liked the combination of bass clarinet and the bass. I thought they did a really good job of taking that motif and spinning it around and doing some stuff with it. It was very clear, what they were doing. Their objectives were really clear. I really enjoyed it. At first I thought it was Miroslav, but then, it didn’t sound like his bass. I definitely think it’s another guy. 4 stars. That was Miroslav? He changed his bass. What the hell? What did he do? During the ‘70s, I was around Miroslav and Wayne… Miroslav sounds good, man.
8. Ari Roland, “Damonesco” (from NEW MUSIC, Smalls Records, 2009) (Roland, bass, composer; Chris Byars, alto saxophone; Sacha Perry, piano; Keith Balla, drums.)
I can see the bass player. Short guy. Not American. Oh, this bass player is American? Then I don’t know him. That was great. It was bebop. I loved it. I liked the piano player, and it was swinging. It was recorded recently, though. I can tell by the sound. Sometimes the engineers haven’t done their research on the way the drums should sound in bebop. The snare almost sounded like a drum machine snare. It could have been Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers—everyone might have smiled. I liked the fours, and everybody played them, including the bass player, which usually didn’t happen. The saxophone player was excellent. The first couple of notes, I thought he was Lee Konitz, but then I said no. Then I wondered if Eddie Gomez was on the bass. No. The bowing didn’t sound like Eddie. But the bowing was great. It sounded like he used a German bow. You could tell that he really had it together. I could tell that these guys are diehards, because everything is exactly like those old records. This tune sounded like a composite of a lot of different types of tunes. But to their credit, bebop is as legitimate as classical music. It’s a lot of rules. You could almost say it’s finite. It’s in a box, and there are things you do, and if you do these other things, it’s not bebop. That’s a helluva discipline. I give them a lot of credit. 4 stars.
9. Ron Carter, “Stardust” (from STARDUST, Blue Note, 2001) (Carter, bass; Sir Roland Hanna, piano; Hoagy Carmichael, composer)
[1:40] Is that Ron? Yeah! 5 stars. There’s a couple of bass players in history who to me are source points. If I hear a bass player that’s influenced by Ron, he may have more dexterity than Ron, or have a fancier arrangement, or blah-blah-blah. But Ron is an innovator. Probably 99.9% of the bass players who play out here today all play stuff from Ron. There’s Paul Chambers, and you can go back to Oscar Pettiford, Blanton and Israel Crosby, and after Paul Chambers a few people—but a lot of it culminated in Ron, and then after Ron it’s all of us guys. Ron to me is the most important bass player of the last fifty years. He defined the role of the bass player. When I was younger, I bought the Miles Davis records and listened to that stuff. As this solo bore out, Ron is a great storyteller. You listen to the song, and it’s like somebody telling you a story about something. It’s brilliant. Who was the piano player? Roland? He was great. Killing.