Stanley Clarke: Night School

Jim Santella By

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Stanley Clarke
Night School
Heads Up

Stanley Clarke's concert performance at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood brought many of his friends and acquaintances together for a night of good fun and enjoyable music. Active in fundraising for scholarships to the school, Clarke moved seamlessly through a program that included much original work. With him on several selections was a full orchestra that glowed in the background while Clarke improvised on double bass as well as on his trademark electric model. Other selections featured an impressive and engaging brass section, while many of the program's thirteen pieces were forcefully propelled by a dynamic rhythm section including as many as three drummers.

Clarke's adventure with contemporary jazz on this DVD, created by the Roxboro Entertainment Group and Heads Up International, features plenty of funk-driven rhythms and exciting bass playing. With violinist Karen Briggs, he interprets several selections that demonstrate his versatility. Bela Fleck joins the pair on banjo for "Song to John and "Lochs of Dread, both of which flow naturally as Clarke wends his way through a powerful exchange among stringed instruments, as the three artists share their improvisation openly.

Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, which Clarke performs on his electric model with five horns and plenty of rhythm in support, lets him reach out and shower the audience with Mingus' lyrical theme. His natural ability leads to flying fingers at the slightest opportunity, but that talent, especially when attracted by a beautiful melody, never seems to quit. Clarke loves to extend a poetic arm whenever the occasion seems to call for it. "Why Wait," a personal meeting between the bassist and Dr. Maya Angelou included in the DVD's extra feature section, offers the viewer the opportunity of witnessing the musician poet and verbal poet pool talents naturally.

Several of the selections with orchestra are brief and truncated. While these Clarke compositions are tantalizing, the feeling diminishes rapidly when edited down to mere moments. "Theme from Boyz 'n the Hood, unfortunately, falls into this category. It's during these brief episodes, moreover, that raging guitarist Michael Thompson begins to shine. But just as his presence picks up the mood and lights fires, it gets shut off all too soon.

Stevie Wonder sings "Every Day and drives the small group into "Giant Steps with a resounding thrill while violinist Briggs adds grace to the mix, Clarke's double bass working tightly with both mainstream tunes. The concert's high point comes with a rhythmic powerhouse that Clarke calls "Big Jam, which includes three drum sets, extra rhythm, five horns, violin and two electric bassists. Percussionists Stuart Copeland and Sheila E. along with bassist Flea and the leader know how to turn up the heat. Driving with overt enthusiasm, the larger band clears the air, raises the roof, and gets the audience all riled up. It's the kind of excitement that one remembers for months and years afterward.

Closing the program with eleven electric bassists on stage, Clarke delivers his signature tune "School Days with plenty of improvised action. He interacts with several of the other bassists as they solo, each showing us a sample of their wares. You have to love 'em all, since it's creative, spontaneous and done in the name of more educational opportunities for all.

Tracks: The Floor; Wild Dog; Goodbye Porkpie Hat; Song to John; The Lochs of Dread; Why Wait; Frequent Flyer; Anna Mae; Theme from Boyz 'N the Hood; Big Jam; Every Day I Have the Blues; Giant Steps; School Days.

Personnel: Stanley Clarke: double bass, electric bass; Paul Jackson, Jr., Michael Thompson: guitar; Karen Briggs: violin; Bela Fleck: banjo; Benny Maupin, Glenn Berger, Doug Webb: saxophone; Wallace Roney, Bob Summers, Mike McGuffey: trumpet; Reggie Young: trombone; Stewart Hamm, Jimmy Johnson, Marcus Miller, Armand Sabal-Lecco, Billy Sheehan, Wayman Tisdale, Flea, Alex Al, Brian Bromberg, Bunny Brunel: bass; Ndugu Chancler, Stewart Copeland, Gerry Brown, Rayford Griffin, Lenny White: drums; Sheila E.: drums, timbales; Patrice Rushen, Rodney Franklin, Mark Stephens, Nick Smith: keyboards; Stevie Wonder: keyboards, vocals; Others (orchestra); Sinbad: master of ceremonies.

Production Notes: 67-minute concert performance. Recorded October 24, 2002. Extras: 15 minutes of interviews with: Stanley Clarke, Stuart Copeland, Lenny White, Flea, Quincy Jones, Billy Sheehan, Wayman Tisdale, Karen Briggs, Bela Fleck, Gerry Brown, John Singleton and Marcus Miller. Poetry reading with double bass: "Why Wait, performed by Dr. Maya Angelou and Stanley Clarke.

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