Stanley Clarke Trio: Jazz In the Garden

By: Trevor Pour

If you don't consider Stanley Clarke one of the top five players in the bass business you don't know Stanley Clarke. It's as simple as that. As one of the preeminent global jazz minds of the last four decades, Clarke has contributed his otherworldly abilities to more albums, projects and tours than most artists could ever hope to glean. From his wildly influential 1976 record School Days to his continued work with fusion giants Return to Forever, it appears that Clarke has a true Midas touch. And yet, throughout it all, the man remains as humble and kind as he is talented and creative. But perhaps more surprising than his impeccable history is the fact that throughout his last 40 illustrious and demanding years Clarke has yet to release an acoustic trio record. That is, until now. The long-awaited Jazz in the Garden (Heads Up), features two of the smartest players on today's scene: Clarke's long-time friend and collaborator Lenny White on drums and Chick Corea's protégé Hiromi Uehara on piano.

Jazz in the Garden is modeled in large part after traditional jazz albums of the 1970s The tempo isn't rushed, the character never forced, and the trio never tries to push an overly "modern" spin on their traditional sound. Yet, it remains a fundamentally unique record that rests firmly and confidently against the fringes of both technical ability and emotional intensity. It's equal parts nostalgia and fresh perspective, shaken to a complex concoction that provides the perfect note for every passing moment. The brilliant chemistry is expected between Clarke and White, whose collaborative history began in their early twenties during their days with Joe Henderson. Their short but lively duet, "Take the Coltrane," exemplifies their brotherhood on this record.

The real surprise found herein is how well the young Hiromi meshes with her significantly more experienced peers. A few of the compositions on Jazz in the Garden are written by her, and their caliber is remarkable. The first, "Sicilian Blue," opens with Clarke playing with a bow and evokes strong visuals inspired by Hiromi's trip to the Mediterranean island in 2008. It is one of the most haunting, beautiful, endlessly deep tracks on the album, and is one of the best examples of the trio's chemistry. There truly aren't any 'highlights' on this record, since to label anything as such would be to detract from the rest of the album, something I am unwilling to do. But, a few tracks which warrant mention, including the classic Henderson tune "Isotope," recreated in stunning accuracy and quality, and the deceptively simple "Someday My Prince Will Come," which displays a powerful yet delicate performance from Clarke and further exemplifies his stunning rapport with the young pianist. The closing track on the disc, arranged by Hiromi, is an adaptation of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Under the Bridge." At first, the contrast in styles seems far-fetched, but as the composition unfolds with Clarke's unique slap-bass and White's precision percussion it becomes a beautifully fitting end to a contemporary album which pays due tribute to history.

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[Published on: 9/11/09]

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