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Mike Clark: Humble As He Goes

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Drummer/composer/bandleader Mike Clark's resume is as diverse as his talent and, in turn, his discography. The man who dramatically raised his public profile by sitting at the kit for Herbie Hancock and The Headhunters has gone on to record in a wide variety of settings, with a panoply of people, including guitarist extraordinaire Charlie Hunter, British fusioneers Brand X plus once and future member of The Meters, George Porter Jr.. Somewhat contrary to Clark's restless, eclectic spirit, both of these releases showcase a deep affinity for traditional acoustic jazz and the indomitable drummer plays with an effortless facility throughout the pair. At the same time, he quite humbly integrates his skills into the respective collectives and, in doing so, only further validates his own distinct, musicianly persona.

Mike Clark
Kosen Rufu
Wide Hive Records
2023

In aligning himself on Kosen Rufu with such estimable figures as trumpeter Eddie Henderson and pianist Wayne Horvitz, Mike Clark displays what may well be the greatest of all his virtues, that is, his willingness to humbly immerse himself in what he is doing and, by extension, refusing to merely dabble. Thus, it's only natural these eleven tracks commence with a bracing shuffle that sounds like an excerpt from a lengthier performance, at the very point the ensemble hits its collective stride. Similarly, the elements of free playing wax and wane over the course of this sixty-minute album and never more so than on its longest track, the 9:15 of "MC's Thing:" angular, indirect elements seamlessly give way to the straight ahead, then back again. And on a cover of Eric Dolphy's, "Hat And Beard," saxophonist Skerik's interactions with the groundbreaking Horvitz leave plenty of room for expansion of personnel as well ideas. Recordings by Jean Christophe Santalis (mixed by Alberto Hernandez and Gregory Howe for mastering by Justin Weis) accentuate the space between as well as the timber of instruments; most notable among those are Bill Summers' popping percussion plus multiple appearances of electric piano, like that of "Signature." On "Distance Between Leaves" as well as "Olivia," it's clear everyone involved in this project was tuned to the very same frequency.

Daggerboard
Escapement
Wide Hive Records
2024

Besides Mike Clark himself, the main link of continuity between these two titles is, not surprisingly, bassist Henry Franklin (aka 'The Skipper' ). Accordingly, the latter's bond with Clark supplies a crucial center of gravity for a larger collection of participants than on its companion piece and while it's not always true that the numbers of participants translates into wider expression of imagination, Escapement lives up to its name. As if intended as a carefully-conceived extension of its counterpart LP, the inviting audio quality of the album—not surprisingly courtesy most of the same technical experts—makes the record worth listening to in and of itself. Still, the sonics wouldn't mean much if it were not for the bold eloquence of these eleven musicians: the product of their creativity often calls to mind the iconic keyboardist/composer Herbie Hancock's work immediately upon leaving the employ of Miles Davis. So, the loosely-arranged title song and "Centrifugal" invite favorable comparisons to Fat Albert Rotunda (Warner Bros., 1969) as much as "Certified Clockwork," where the line between improvisation and composition is virtually indistinguishable (as is also the case on the closer of this title's complementary longplayer, "Apparition"). Meanwhile, the spare orchestration accents tracks such as "The Balance Board," adding yet another palpable touch of elegance to intricate arrangements and correspondingly dense musicianship that mirror the colorful detail of this cover art.

Tracks and Personnel

Kosen Rufu

Tracks: First Motion; Hat And Beard; MC's Thing; Distance Between Leaves; Olivia; Barbeque on Auseon; One For Mganga; Love Mingus; Signature; Luconchu's Night Out; Apparition.

Personnel: Wayne Horvitz: piano; Rhodes; Eddie Henderson: trumpet; Skerik: saxophone; Bill Summers: percussion; Henry 'The Skipper' Franklin: bass; Mike Clark: drums.

Escapement

Tracks: Centrifugal; Escapement; Climbing In The Cocoon; The Balance Board; Return of the Pendulum; Distant Sirens; OLivia I; Certified Clockwork; Concrete dim; Petraconda; All cool in the Wheelhouse..

Personnel: Matt Clark: piano, Rhodes; Sheldon Brown: bass clarinet, clarinet, flutes; Mike Rinta: trombone, tuba; Erik Jacobsen: trumpet, flugelhorn; Kasey Knudsen: alto saxophone; Mads Tolling: violin; Cullen Luper: violin; Liana Baruba: violin; Evan Price: violin; Rachel Andreana: violin; Ben Davis: cello; Jonathan Ring: French horn; William Winant: timpani, marimba; Gregory Howe: percussion; Mike Hughes: snare drum, cymbal; Henry 'The Skipper' Franklin: acoustic bass; Mike Clark drums.

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