Once upon a time (circa 1969-75), jazz/rock/funk fusion — now simply called “fusion” — was a wild and feral thing. Jazz’s old guard distrusted and reviled it almost as much the rock establishment did punk rock in the latter half of 1970s. Included among fusion’s vanguard was bassist Stanley Clarke, who served in Chick Corea‘s Return To Forever, and became a titan in his own right. Clarke’s style was a unique synthesis of jazz risk-taking, rock dynamism, and sinewy funk (the latter à la Sly & the Family Stone‘s Larry Graham).
These days Clarke is revered as an old master, but does he still have the right stuff? For the most part, yes. While nothing on Stanley Clarke Band has the edge of his seventies catalogue, Clarke isn’t coasting on past accomplishments. Alternating on acoustic and electric axes, he’s assembled a troop of (mostly) younger musicians who interact with him and each other in an energetic and economical manner. (The longest track here is just under nine minutes, and there’s no long-winded or masturbatory soloing here.) “Here’s Why Tears Dry” is a moody and pensive panorama with some stinging, terse guitar and nearly-singing bass. “Labyrinth” contains luminously lyrical acoustic piano (with hints of “My Favorite Things” therein) from composer Hiromi. Her notes sparkle like at-sundown raindrops over Clarke’s sinuous bass and Ronald Bruner‘s judiciously crashing drums. While no masterpiece, Stanley Clarke Band achieves a dandy balance. It’s easygoing, genial music of ample substance. (Heads Up/Telarc)