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Some artists are excellent songwriters. Others are expert composers. Stanley Clarke belongs to the latter groupa creator of music for art's sake rather than one who is limited to popular songs. His skill for composition comes through strongly on The Toys of Men.
Clarke, a pioneering electric bassist, has been a force on the music scene for more than three decades. From early 1970s work with Chick Corea and Return to Forever and a brilliant solo career that includes the bass anthem "School Days, to collaborations with George Duke, Clarke is proficient as both a sideman and a bandleader. His associations involve several styles: jazz, fusion, funk and even pop. A shortlist of his musical brethren includes Larry Graham, Keith Richards, Stewart Copeland and Béla Fleck. Clarke has scored numerous gold and platinum records, winning Grammy and Emmy awards. He's also scored several major motion pictures, including Boyz n the Hood (1991), What's Love Got to Do With It? (1993), Passenger 57 (1992) and Romeo Must Die (2000).
The Toys of Men is Clarke's social message about the relationship between the arts and war. Throughout mankind's history, he says, disagreements often lead to opposing sides getting their "toys and using them to impose their will. The title song is a six-part, eleven-minute suite that covers a range of emotions associated with war. The first movement, "Draconian, could easily be the soundtrack of a battle scene, with violinist Mads Tolling bringing the point across. Throughout, Clarke's skills as a composer and bassist are evident.
"Come On is a more upbeat selection that represents the artist's way of saying, "Come on, leave the weapons at home, drop the hostility and let's talk. Tolling's riveting violin solo and Jef Lee Johnson's well-placed guitar licks effectively deliver the message.
"Back in the Woods is one of several acoustic bass interludes in which Clarke plays alone. Just him and the strings and wood of his instrument. Esperanza Spalding, an up-and-coming acoustic bassist herself, sings "All Over Again, a melancholy ballad about an immigrant who has to return to his native country, leaving behind the woman he loves. Though a sad song, Spalding's voice brings warmth.
"Bad Asses is a funk-driven duet between Clarke on tenor bass and drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. This straight jam features Clarke snapping those strings in familiar fashion, while Bruner goes wild on the toms, cymbals and snare.
All twelve tracks on The Toys of Men are original. Clarke composed all but "Jerusalem, which was penned by Israel-born keyboardist Ruslan Sirota. Sirota, Tolling and Bruner also contributed to "Come On, while Spalding wrote the lyrics for "All Over Again. While the overall theme is an appeal for peace in a world that, according to some, is bent on destruction, Clarke also calls for listeners to appreciate the artistic beauties of life and maintain hope that things will get better. He and his supporting cast deliver that message quite well.
Track Listing: Come On; Jerusalem; Back in the Woods; All Over Again; Hmm Hmm; Bad Asses; Game; La Cancion De Sofia; El Bajo Negro; Broski; Chataeuvallon 1972; Bass Folk Song No. 6.
Personnel: Stanley Clarke: electric bass (1), acoustic bass (1, 4, 6, 9, 11, 13), spoken word (1), bass (2, 8), Victor Bailey Model Acoustic Bass Guitar (3, 5, 12), programming (5), tenor bass (7), Prepared Tuned Electric Bass (10), Piccolo Bass (12); Rusian Sirota: keyboards (1, 2, 3, 5), acoustic piano (1, 9, 12), programming (3), Fender Rhodes (12); Mads Tolling: violin (1, 2, 9); Esperanza Spalding: vocals (1, 5); Jef Lee Johnson: guitar (1, 2, 8); Ronald Bruner, Jr.: drums (1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 12); Tomer Shtein: additional acoustic guitar (1); Michael Landau: acoustic and electric guitars (3); Phil Davis: keyboards (8, 9); Paulinho Da Costa: percussions (9).