Wednesday, March 17, 2010
The Stanley CLARKE Trio With Hiromi UEHARA & Lenny WHITE - Jazz In The Garden 2009
The Stanley CLARKE Trio With Hiromi UEHARA & Lenny WHITE - Jazz In The Garden 2009
In a career that spans nearly four decades and includes gigs with Return to Forever, Rite of Strings and a variety of other solo and collaborative projects along the way, bassist Stanley Clarke - one of the most prominent voices in electric jazz and fusion - had seemingly covered every possible corner of the jazz landscape. But there was one avenue he had yet to explore.
"I had never done an acoustic bass record, ever," he says. "There's a long list of people on whose records I've played acoustic bass - Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, Joe Henderson and many others - but I'd never done an acoustic jazz trio record of my own. So I wanted to record one that would just feature the piano and the acoustic bass in a way that you could really hear the bass."
This long-overdue dream project becomes a reality with the release of Jazz In The Garden. For his first straightahead acoustic jazz trio recording, Clarke assembles two brilliant collaborators at the top of their respective games: pianist Hiromi Uehara and drummer Lenny White. Each represents a distinctly different generational and cultural perspective, but given the range and versatility of both, the net effect is superb. Indeed, the synergy resulting from all three of these luminaries makes for one of the most refreshing Stanley Clarke recordings in recent years.
In many ways, Jazz in the Garden is Stanley Clarke's way of reconnecting with a time much earlier in his career before his plunge into electric jazz - a time when he earned his stripes playing acoustic bass with some of the most enduring names in the annals of jazz. "There are times when you want to revisit the things that really established the foundation in your life," he says. "I spent many, many years studying acoustic bass, and many years playing in New York after I left Philadelphia in the late `60s. I played with everyone who was there at the time. It was a long time ago, but all that stuff from that period is what made me who I am. This record is my way of reconnecting with that time and that music."
I don't think this lineup needs an introduction. Stanley and Lenny are fresh off the Return to Forever Reunion tour and they have paired up with one of the most talented young voices on piano, Hiromi. They have given themselves a nice range of material to work with: everything from standards in the jazz canon (someday my prince will come, isotope) to rock favorites (under the bridge).There is no need to say that they each perform excellently on each track.
The appeal of this band is undoubtedly the non-standard tact it brings to a trio outing like this. Stanley and Lenny are perhaps best known as pillars of the fusion supergroup Return to Forever and have each had extensive careers in that field. Hiromi has made a name for herself as an eclectic musician, bringing together interesting groups of musicians playing music in strange time signatures or with other similar quirks. Although this is an acoustic trio, they cant shake off the fusion. This leads to some really great reinterpretations of jazz standards. "Take the Coltrane" sounds normal enough at first, but it becomes immediately clear that Stanley dominates this version. Clarke has a unique way around the acoustic bass which allows him lead the song like a horn player or pianist might in any other combo. Similarly, the Joe Henderson tune "Isotope" starts off like any other, but is taken command of like few others. This time Hiromi also lends her hand at a spectacular solo.
there are also a handful of originals which are every bit as lively. My favorite is the album opener "Paradigm Shift (election day 2008)" which goes through two movements and provides what seems to me to be the most complete musical expression on the album. Also the Red Hot Chili Peppers song 'under the bridge' has truly spectacular Hiromi solo.
It isn't all good. First off, I dont know what that psuedo traditional Japanese sounding instrumentation at the beginning of 'Sakura Sakura' is supposed to do, especially since they do the rest of the song like a normal jazz tune, it sounds sort of out of place. I am also disappointed that Lenny white did not open up more on the drums. While he is an excellent background drummer, I felt often that he was sort of restrained behind the rest of the band. He had a few places to ope up, but not that much.
Ultimately, this was a real fun album. Not by any stretch the best any of these artists have done, but a really solid album that wont disappoint any fan.
Stanley Clarke has long been known as one of the greatest jazz bassists to come along in some time, and it would seen that there’s nothing left for him to prove, musically, so revered is his work by musicians in general, and bassists in particular. Hard, then, to believe that this innovative master has never recorded a full album of acoustic bass work with a jazz piano trio.
Now, in the wake of a tour with the reunited Return to Forever, one of his most exciting fusion recordings in years (Toys of Men), and collaboration with fellow bassists who he has influenced (Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten) Clarke has decided that the time for such an album is now. Furthermore, he has chosen to collaborate with drummer Lenny White, his cohort in RTF with a primarily fusion-oriented history and wunderkind pianist Hiromi Uehara, herself no stranger to influences both eclectic and electric in her brief but already wide body of work. The resulting album, Jazz In the Garden, is one of the year’s best jazz recordings, one that contains both the comforting familiarity of old friends and the adventurousness of new discoveries.
The disc opens with Clarke’s composition “Paradigm Shift (Election Day 2008)” which starts with a frenzied figure that calls to mind people scurrying about, perhaps on their way to the polls. The piece soon settles into a light bossa-style rhythm against which Hiromi’s solo swings between Herbie Hancock-style impressionism and the more roiling, searching right hand dexterity of Chick Corea. There’s no bombast here, indicative of the thoughtful, lyrical nature of this band, but neither is there any room for boredom. White keeps the drums behind Clarke and Hiromi, but he’s not afraid to break the surface with some cross-rhythmic figures. As for Stanley, his solo is moody, utilizing some percussive slapping along with his usual dexterous lines. “Sakura Sakura” is based on a traditional Japanese folk song, and Stanley opens with the melodic line gorgeously played, calling to mind the koto, then breaks into the slinky rhythmic line that provides the rest of the arrangement’s backbone. Hiromi’s solo here is simple and elegant, reminiscent of the song’s Japanese heritage, yet completely jazzy.
Hiromi’s composition “Sicilian Blue” provides an opportunity for Clarke to state the sumptuous melody con arco, demonstrating his complete mastery of the double bass. The piece slips into a familiar bossa lope, and Hiromi provides some cloud cover chord clusters before embarking on a solo that is light and deft as a hummingbird. Clarke’s ending statement is similarly light. The pianist’s “Brain Training” is a completely different ballgame, a boppish, swinging number with a slight tag. The trio swings here as though they’ve been playing together for years. Similar in feel is Clarke’s “3 Wrong Notes,” which has a Monkish feel.
There’s the obligatory Clarke bass solo piece, “Bass Folk Song No. 5&6,” which provides a nice break from the trio format as well as confirming the sheer beauty with which Clarke can create music all by himself. Also interesting is “Global Tweak,” an improvised duet between Clarke and Hiromi that shows just how well musicians can play together when they are listening to each other, regardless of age or cultural differences.
The remaining tracks include a trio of jazz standards—“Take the Coltrane,” “Someday My Prince Will Come,” and “Solar”—all played beautifully by this incredible trio. The outliers include Joe Henderson’s “Isotope,” a modern piece that allows Hiromi to venture a bit ‘outside’ in her solo, and a cover of the Red Hot Chili Peppers song “Under the Bridge,” here given an arrangement that flows freely between 4/4 and 7/4, with both Clarke and Hiromi taking the melodic statement at various times.
Jazz in the Garden is a major piece of work for Clarke, White, and Hiromi, and stands up well next to all three players’ discographies. It’s a must have for piano trio fans.
Stanley Clarke: Acoustic Bass;
Hiromi Uehara: Piano;
Lenny White: Drums
01. Paradigm Shift (Election Day 2008) 7:42
02. Sakura Sakura 5:29
03. Sicilian Blue 4:48
04. Take The Coltrane 3:29
05. 3 Wrong Notes 5:46
06. Someday My Prince Will Come 4:52
07. Isotope 5:27
08. Bass Folk Song No. 5 & 6 4:01
09. Global Tweak 3:42
10. Solar 5:12
11. Brain Training 4:52
12. Under The Bridge 5:32