Stanley Clarke chatted to Get Ready to ROCK! Radio ahead of his UK tour dates. This hour special looks at his career, with tracks from the 1970s to the present.
First broadcast on 16 July 2017.
(Listeners in the USA please follow the link here to listen in)
When I spotted a London gig for Stanley Clarke recently it provoked an immediate sigh that jazz fusion greats tend not to get further than the capital in terms of UK tours. Then, I noticed several other dates including a local gig. Immediately I was taken back to Clarke’s appearance at the now legendary Liverpool club Eric’s, in 1977, perhaps better known at the time (and since) as a hotbed for the nascent punk and new wave acts of the period (see photo at foot of review).
Fast forwarding 40 years and there are few if any setlists available for Clarke’s more recent sorties and the YouTube stuff invariably seems to emphasise his jazzier leanings, double bass to the fore. It’s almost like he’s come full circle.
So, there was a slight feeling of trepidation heading to Manchester’s Gorilla venue which is perhaps best known for its all night club sessions. Stanley had indicated in our pre-tour interview: whilst the current setlist wouldn’t exactly be a “greatest hits” it would cover a fair amount of ground. As we stated in that interview, for every audience holler of “School Days” there’ll be many more fans who like to hear the “deeper cuts”.
For a musician who has rubbed shoulders with many a rock/fusion artist, the obvious omission from tonight’s show was a guitarist. Instead two keyboard players provided both additional melody and harmony in smaller or greater measure putting an even fuller focus on Clarke’s admittedly highly melodic soloing. The truth is that a rock guitar is the perfect foil to Clarke’s percussive rhythm style and it was sorely missed tonight.
The recent compilation ‘The Definitive Collection’ covering ther years 1975-1988 emphasises that there was also a fair amount of vocals, whether Clarke’s own or members of his band. Again, that aspect was absent tonight.
It turned out that this gig – topped and tailed by the funk – was a masterclass in the smoothest of jazz and it may have been the late 1970s and 1980s never actually happened. In that sense the gig could be enjoyed purely on its intrinsic merits: very fine musicianship, young musicians sparring with an old master, and peppered judiciously with a few familiar “favourites” along the way. In 2017 can we expect anything more?
You realise that the paucity of those internet setlists is actually due to the extended jam-like nature of the proceedings. Only the most dedicated Clarke-ophile would have the slightest idea of tune titles. Opening with a pulsating flurry on electric bass, and with ‘School Days’ out of the way, the funky side of things was subjugated to an extended jazz interlude with double bass although completely absorbing.
The two keyboard players (Beka Gochiashvili and Cameron Graves) were very much in the wings and you couldn’t help thinking that – without a guitarist – someone with the musical flamboyance of a Derek Sherinian was needed. On drums – Mike Mitchell (a.k.a. Blaque Dynamite) – was particularly impressive providing an insistent backbeat for Clarke’s creative excursions.
To be truthful, it is quite something to see Stanley Clarke in this sort of setting and not to have to contemplate the air fare to Montreux, or even further. And, if there is a (perhaps reluctant) acceptance of the current band modus operandi it did mean that the gig presented an immediate temptation to go home and dig out all the old stuff and to re-evaluate a true colossus of the jazz fusion genre. In that sense, job done.
Review and photos by David Randall
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
The Stanley Clarke feature is repeated on Thursday 20 July at 22:00 GMT, on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio
Stanley Clarke, Eric’s, Liverpool, 6 August 1977
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