When Mike Clark's name comes up in conversation, most people recall his brilliant playing and funk fusion grooves on Herbie Hancock's Thrust (Columbia/Legacy, 1974). While "Actual Proof" and a slew of other terrific tracks have cemented Clark's reputation as a drummer with chops to spare, this particular period of his musical life has often pigeonholed him. Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 1 will alter this perception as he demonstrates why, throughout his storied career, he has been a first call drummer for A-list artists like Hancock, Chet Baker, Bobby Hutcherson and Tony Bennett.
The album kicks off with the up-tempo swinger, "In The House." Patrice Rushen's passionate piano starts a string of strong solos, with saxophonists Jed Levy and Donald Harrison blowing hard. The song culminates with Clark's chops-heavy display of taste and technique. "Like That" falls somewhere in the middle of jazz, funk and fusion, an area that Clark knows all too well, with Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah joining the fray with some bold trumpet work. The slow, woozy swing of "10th Ave. 1957" evokes images of raunchy dives and smoke-filled haunts. Harrison and Scott brilliantly bring these elements into greater focus during this seductive performance. The high-energy, Middle Eastern-tinged "Past Lives" fuses Latin grooves with funk, an opportunity for the saxophones, Clark and bassist Christian McBride to have some fun before the song fades out.
Clark lays down a solid shuffle groove on "Thanks Len," and this proves to be one of the album's most straight-ahead performances. Rushen's bluesy touch is a nice contrast to her previous solos, and Clark quietly moves over to the hi-hat for McBride's solo spot. Clark doesn't completely forsake his Headhunters past on this album, and he puts together some tasty linear grooves on "Loft Funk." The melody line and stylistic traits seem to make this piece a close relative of Eddie Harris' "Freedom Jazz Dance"; Clark and Levy have written a buoyant, happy tune that oozes soul. Scott's "Clark Kent" is a quartet number that gives Scott, Rushen and McBride ample solo space, while Clark holds down the fort.
Clark and McBride create a deep swing groove in five on "Conchita's Dance," a track that, despite the fire and energy of the soloists, is really about the bond and groove created by the rhythm section, and sustained throughout. "Morning Becomes Electra" is a hard driving, up-tempo burner which features some stunning solo work from Clark. The only thing that seems to be missing is a ballad, and Clark fills in this gap with Billy Eckstine's "I Want To Talk About You." Harrison's heartfelt playing is a delight to hear and Clark stirs the souland the drums, with his sensitive brushwork, as the album comes to a close.
In The House; Like That; 10th Ave. 1957; Past Lives; Thanks Len; Loft Funk; Clark Kent; Conchita's Dance; Morning Becomes Electra; I Want To Talk About You.
Mike Clark: drums; Christian McBride: bass; Patrice Rushen: piano; Christian Scott: trumpet; Donald Harrison: alto saxophone; Jed Levy: tenor saxophone.
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