By: Nathan Rodriguez
I first listened to The Toys of Men (Heads Up) while cleaning the house, and got interested with what I assumed was either the second or third track. A glance at the album cover and I realized I was still knee deep in the opening title track opus.
A launch sequence opens the odyssey and is trailed by a powerful, raucous buildup prompted by Mads Tolling (violin) that echoes Clarke's jazz fusion days. The track meanders through twists and turns but remains a singular rivulet by Clarke's steady hand. "Come On" has Clarke slapping the bass and establishing a relentless, workmanlike groove that brings to mind snippets of Oysterhead's "Polka Dot Rose." "Jerusalem" is a steady, sprawling, exploratory journey that would nicely complement a drive through the woods. The band really lets this one breathe during its six-minute lifespan – like pulling apart Laffy Taffy until it nearly becomes two separate pieces. They stretch it thin in some sections only to find it gracefully regain its shape.
"All Over Again" offers the album's only lyrical content, and after a couple minutes it assumes the seductive, familiar comfort of an ex-lover. From this glossy production, Clarke strips it down and goes solo with "Hmm Hmm," snapping the bass strings like a firecracker in the brief tune. With "Bad Asses," Clarke and Ronald Bruner, Jr. throw down a bass/drum combo so nasty one is inclined to think they were each injected with performance enhancing drugs. The track's buoyant bassline resides somewhere between the Seinfeld theme and Phish's "Weekapaug Groove." Bruner keeps pace with jaw-dropping, hyper-kinetic drumming. The track features a bit of everything, from thoughtful interplay to a few seamless start-stop jams. It's a creation that rewards repeated listens. They end the song appropriately, with a quick, satisfied in-studio chuckle.
Clarke displays the nimble precision of a spider in "El Bajo Negro," and in this solo he launches a beautiful progression of themes but saves plenty for a grand finale, where his palms slap different beats out of the body of the guitar while continuing to strum out notes. "Chateauvallon 1972" is dedicated to Tony Williams, and is named after the Jazz Festival where he and Clarke played together. Bruner is phenomenal, and offers a fitting polyrhythmic tribute to the late drummer.
This album is a gem. Clarke appreciates the value of a quality bass flurry, and adds in band members judiciously. There are plenty of quiet moments for ponderous soloing, a comfortable and solid middle ground with a couple other players and, of course, the peaks with the full ensemble. The end result is an intriguing, diverse and pleasant musical experience.
JamBase | Lowlands
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