Randal Clark's Imaginary World stretches beyond the conscious boundaries and illuminates the dark corners. It's clear from the onset that it is steeped in jazz tradition with a giant foothold on both rhythmic and melodic foundations. Clark establishes himself early and never lets go. Too often a buoyant blast off can ultimately fade away into the abyss of both the imaginary and conscious recesses of the mind or a once steaming groove can melt into the wallpaper. Even the most established of artists can find pacing to be a challenge. Sequencing is an art form in itself. That said, it matters little without the right chops and strong compositions. Prolific songwriter Jeff Lorber is responsible for well over half of the material on this project. As always, his tunes are bright and melodious. The keyboardist is also among the strong cast of musicians assembled for this recording. That list includes drummers Vinnie Colaiuta and Gary Novak, bassist Jimmy Haslip (who also produced), guitarists Mike Miller and Michael Thompson, as well as several others. There's even a special guest appearance from Randy Brecker.
It is Clark, however, who seizes the opportunities. Starting out as a "Trailblazer" seemed fitting as Clark then evokes a bright "New Day" in a tune that Haslip and Novak present in a rhythmic jewel case. Clark and Thompson utilize the structure to engage in playful improvisation. The "Daybreak" continues with Colaiuta and Haslip forming a soft launch pad for Clark to propel out of with his soprano sax. He meets a spirited Lorber in orbit, as his high-end springs open, entering into an intelligent early morning conversation. The day then really gets going with a snap, clap, and funk in which the ensemble rides a punchy groove. This fourth consecutive Lorber composition, "Living Underground," is highlighted by a Haslip bass solo and ignited by the earthy and soulful playing of Clark. No doubt it became a sunny day as the Clark and Lorber co-write "Discovery" shines brightly with fiery guitar licks from Thompson and equally buzzing sax riffs from Clark. This song gives Clark a lot of room to fly. He soars gracefully dipping his emotional wings in a myriad of directions.
A midway line-up change then works well to add a new wrinkle and subtract any possibility of malaise. Keyboardist David Mann, guitarist Jon Herington, bassist Gerald Albright, and drummer Sonny Emory become Clark's bandmates for the Mann penned "Boulevard East." Herington's distinct tonality and the shuffled rhythm section bring a new flavor to the mix. Clark's sound casts a contrasting shadow as his impressions are made in a new light. The middle of the set is refueled by the return of Lorber and his feisty rock-grooved "Tiger Lily." Clark makes no attempt to hold that tiger, instead invigoratingly capturing the raw energy and powering through the barn burner, alongside the blazing inferno of Thompson's guitar. Having gone the upbeat distance, slowing down to catch your breath with a ballad is logical, if not necessary. "Looking Back" strongly demonstrates at least a couple of footnotes. One is Clark's ability to be convincingly sentimental with gorgeous soprano lines. The other is to be able to write such a piece. "Looking Back" is one of two solo compositions from Clark on the record. With oxygen tanks replenished, it's right back to being "Turbocharged." Yes, another Lorber juggernaut. This one has Miller's guitar edges and Clark's alto benefitting from the unique and swinging gait.
Lorber and Haslip have written many songs together over the years, so it comes as no surprise that they contributed a co-write. Nor is it a surprise that "Time's Arrow" is a composition of significance and creative depth. It never hurts to invite Randy Brecker to the party either. It takes only a New York minute for Brecker to make his presence felt with such nifty pops emanating from his horn. He goes on to trade licks with Clark in this notable song. It's the makings of a stellar record when you have this kind of gas left in the tank near the end. The record finishes with Clark's second solo composition, which also is the title track, "Imaginary World." Fittingly, it's a pondering and meandering piece that straddles the line between imagination and reality. This eleven song offering is an impressive debut album. Randal Clark is on the map, beginning his journey of melding fresh ideas with time honored jazz traditions.
Trailblazer; New Day; Daybreak; Living Underground; Discovery; Boulevard East; Tiger Lily; Looking Back; Turbocharged; Time's Arrow;