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Live Reviews

Stanley Clarke Trio: Live at Catalina's

By Published: November 1, 2009

So when he pulled out his bow and caressed those fat strings to begin the next number, it was not to tease, but to please the audience. The tune—unnamed, and described with only a short commentary from Clarke at the song's conclusion, when he smiled broadly at Hiromi and said "crazy!"—turned into a pleasantly frenzied free-for-all jam that finally built to a duel between them. The Cheshire grin on Hiromi's face was evidence of who had fired the winning shot.

Lenny White is the kind of timekeeper only an attentive listener notices. Put another way, he's noticed when he wants to be noticed. His efficient mastery is what gets the train to run on time, and makes sure the locomotive pulls into the station. At any point when the composition calls for percussive energy, whether in support or leading the charge, White supplies the necessary rhythmic thrust. At the end of the intro to "Paradigm Shift (Election Day 2008)," he did both by opening with a crackling rim shot.

Politics aside, when a black man was elected president of the United States last Nov. 4th, racism was officially rescinded as a national policy. This is a piece of music which calls for the dramatic, and delivers. White, who seldom takes an extended solo (he has certainly avoided showy or gratuitous displays in his career) took a solo that was mesmerizing. Not the machine-gun barrage of notes that often passes for a performance, but a musical interlude that was as notable for what it didn't do as what it did. Reminiscent somewhat of Max Roach

Max Roach
Max Roach
1925 - 2007
on an introspective evening, he played different parts of the kit in an organically developed melody, with the rhythmic qualities of echoing counterpoint, like water condensing and splashing inside an underground cave.

At the end of White's solo, a young man's voice from the back of the room began shouting enthusiastically, "Lenny White! Lenny White! Lenny White! Lenny White!" in a kind of Tarzan-like bellow. Embarrassing though it may have been for White, one and all of those assembled understood completely. No question.

When the musicians returned for their encore, they did yet another tune from Clarke's trio CD, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' crooner's ballad "Under the Bridge," a big radio hit that had always seemed like a case of mistaken identity. His arrangement is a curious one, not a deconstruction at all, but a re-interpretation. The familiar piano intro is kept intact while he plays a faithful rendition of the vocal melody line on a bass he said later is a "Victor Bailey

Victor Bailey
Victor Bailey
bass, electric
Acoustic/Electric Bass," a fretted, sweet-toned Fender guitar that looks like an over-sized version of what Gene Autry used to strum on horseback, but which he was able to pop and pluck vigorously. In Clarke's hands the tune is stripped clean of the ironically lilting but morose pathos of the original's lyrics, turned inside out and transformed from a junkie's lament into a swinging, upbeat song of redemption. Here, the City of Angels becomes, for a moment, that glittering, mythic sanctuary called Hollywood where a lost soul can find succor for his artistic dreams.

Passionately playing his axe this night like a lead guitarist, Clarke burned. Which of course prompted Hiromi to tear apart the piano line. The abstracted chords she pounded out on the big Yamaha grand were jarring, sometimes harshly voiced, as she utilized all 88 keys to embrace a wide spectrum of emotional contradictions, going further and further outside the boundaries of the composition, skirting dissonance and disaster, but always returning safely and staying just this side of chaos.

And then White brought the train into the station. Clouds of steam plumed as the brakes hissed and coughed, and the tracks trembled. One by one the three of them stood up, walked forward to stand on the platform and take a bow.

Later, backstage, Hiromi came up to White to say good night and ask if they had recorded the show, and White told her yes, the first set. She had clearly preferred the second, the one just concluded, but there would be other shows. After he and Clarke complimented her on her playing, White rearranged himself on his corner of the couch and returned to the conversation he had been having. Leaning forward, he tried to respond to his friend's comment about what Miles Davis

Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
had supposedly once said about jazz, that "sometimes mistakes are the baddest shit that happens." "Music," White said in correcting him, "is how you get out of your mistakes. It's how you get from the point where you're lost... finding your way back from that lost point."

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