Stanley Clarke: Jazz in the Garden (2009)
Bassist Stanley Clarke has explored many musical genres throughout his storied career, crossing and re-crossing musical boundaries to collaborate with everyone from Art Blakey and Joe Henderson to Chick Corea and Al Di Meola. So it's surprising that Jazz in the Garden is his maiden voyage as the leader of an acoustic band.
Clarke's stylistic diversity is on display throughout this album. He uses his famous fret slapping technique during his solo on "Paradigm Shift." Pianist Hiromi blends block chords and arpeggios fluidly, with drummer Lenny White adding sparkling cymbal highlights. Clarke's plucking on the lovely folk song "Sakura Sakura" echoes the koto and sets the tone for Hiromi's atmospheric strumming of the piano strings. The hard bop burner "Isotope" recalls Clarke and White's days playing with the great saxophonist Joe Henderson, who penned the tune. The trio's take on Miles Davis' "Solar" might be its finest hour. Hiromi plays Gatling-gun arpeggios, White is a polyrhythmic demon and there's a clever role reversal as Hiromi lays down a bass line on the piano beneath Clarke's melodic pizzicato. On Hiromi's arrangement of Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Under the Bridge," Clarke makes his acoustic bass sound downright funky.
Although mainly a trio album, Jazz in the Garden includes a few solid duets. Clarke's luminous pizzicato and Hiromi's tender underpinnings imbue the timeless melody of "Someday My Prince Will Come" with a beautiful melancholy. They also improvise on the excellent "Global Tweak" with the coordination and synchronicity of a pair that's been together for years. Similarly, hearing Clarke and White work out on "Take the Coltrane" is like walking in on two old buddies showing off their carefully cultivated chops. The album's defining moment, though, is Clarke's "Bass Folk Song No. 5 & 6." With the melodic power and haunting resonance of this solo tour de force, Clarke leaves a blueprint for present and future generations of bassists to follow.
Track Listing: Paradigm Shift (Election Day 2008); Sakura Sakura; Sicilian Blue; Take the Coltrane; 3 Wrong Notes; Someday My Prince Will Come; Isotope; Bass Folk Song No. 5 & 6; Global Tweak; Solar; Brain Training; Under the Bridge.
Personnel: Stanley Clarke: bass; Hiromi: piano; Lenny White: drums.