Legacy Recordings' recent spate of Complete Albums Collection box sets have righted a whole slew of wrongs by bringing long out-of-print recordings back in a reasonably priced and tidily collected series. They may be relatively light on production valuessimple clamshell-style boxes, mini-LP cardboard sleeves, and booklets whose information, beyond detailed track and personnel listings, is largely dependent upon how much the artist has to say, if anything at allbut the opportunity to collect an entire discography from a specific period in time is plenty compelling enough.
Some boxes have included sought-after bonus material to entice existing fans, like the recently released Mahavishnu OrchestraThe Complete Columbia Albums Collection (2011) which, in addition to a bonus live track tacked onto the group's seminal The Inner Mounting Flame (Columbia, 1971), fleshed out the skimpy, single-disc Between Nothingness and Eternity (Columbia, 1973) to a two-disc set with a full extra hour of music. Elsewhere, however, the addition of two CDs containing Weather Report performances of compositions by founding member Wayne Shorter seemed like an odd way to flesh out the saxophonist's The Complete Columbia Albums Collection (2011), given that three of the four other recordings in the box were long out of print and, for completists, incentive enough.
Stanley Clarke's The Complete 1970s Epic Albums Collection doesn't have any bonus material, and the virtuosic bassist has less than fifty words to contribute to his booklet. Still, by collecting his five recordings from 1974-78 (some out of print for years) plus a live recording that was not released until 1991 (Live 1976-1977), Legacy presents a good opportunity to look back and reassess the music of a bassist who, back in the day, was amongst the most influential on his instrumentfor better and for worse. Clarke's meteoric rise was, perhaps, only eclipsed by the late Jaco Pastorius, whose own one-two-three punch in 1976 Jaco Pastorius (Epic), his first appearance with Weather Report on Black Market (Columbia), and lyrical work with the increasingly jazz-focused singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell on Hejira (Asylum)demonstrated greater compositional and stylistic breadth, and a stronger jazz disposition, even as Clarke moved further into the arenas of funk and rock over the course of these recordings.
Stanley Clarke (Epic, 1974) was the bassist's second album following Children of Forever (Polydor, 1973), and in some ways those two recordings mirrored Clarke's ongoing work in Chick Corea's Return to Forever, his debut, a more acoustic and straight-ahead session that reflected the similar (albeit more Latin) bent on RTF's self-titled 1972 ECM debut and bigger cross-over hit, Light as a Feather (Polydor, 1973). When RTF went more fully electric later that year, with the guitar-heavy, high-octane Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy (Polydor, 1973), so, too, did Clarkeeven going so far as to recruit Hymn's six-stringer, Bill Connors, for Stanley Clarke. It's no surprise, either, that the line-up mirrors RTF, although in order to provide some differentiation Clarke opts for drummer Tony Williams and, in a particularly inspired move, ex-Mahavishnu Orchestra keyboardist Jan Hammer, whose guitar-like Mini-Moog synth playing was always more credible than Corea's less meaty tones. There's plenty of formidable soloing, amidst writing that ranges from the straightforward and groove-laden ("Lopsy Lu," "Vulcan Princess") to the more ambitious ("Spanish Phases for Strings & Bass") and expansive (the four-part "Life Suite"), both orchestrated by Michael Gibbs and some of Clarke's best overall work on record.
Journey to Love (1975) delivers more of the same, though the same amping up of testosterone that was taking place over in RTF-land with the recruitment of Al Di Meola to replace the departing Connors, means that Clarke's third album as a leader began pumping up the muscle, too. Still, a core group with drummer Steve Gadd, guitarist David Sancious and, in particular, keyboardist George Duke (with whom Clarke would later collaborate for three records with the Clarke/Duke Project between 1981 and 1990) meant that the grooves were even deeper on tracks like "Silly Putty" and the title track. Blasphemous though it may seem, when it came to laying it down with direct and largely unadorned simplicity, beautifully behind the beat and always in the pocket, Gadd trumped the often busier Williams.
The album also introduced a larger cast of characters beyond the strings and horns, with RTF-mate Corea and Mahavishnu's John McLaughlin collaborating on the all-acoustic, two-part "Song to John" (dedicated to saxophonist John Coltrane that made Journey to Love even more eclectic than its predecessor. Jeff Beckwhose Blow by Blow, released on the same label that same year and which moved the British rock god closer to Clarke with his own brand of fusionguests on "Hello Jeff," a sign from the bassist that he was taking the "rock" side of the jazz-rock equation very seriously, while "Concerto for Jazz/Rock Orchestra" demonstrated the Clarke had learned some lessons from working with Gibbs on Stanley Clarke, though Gibbs never demonstrated the same degree of outright bombast.
But it would be Clarke's third album for Epic, 1976's School Days, that would introduce two players who would remain key for the rest of Clarke's '70s Epic tenure. It was Clarke's most successful album, charting the highest in both the Billboard pop and jazz charts. A more focused recording that retained all the bass pyrotechnics that Clarke had honed on his earlier releases and through extensive touring with RTthe bassist sometimes reaching a degree of blinding speed unequalled by anyone until Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten, two unmistakable Clarke protégés, emerged about a decade apartbut with a leaner, more direct approach. With the exception of the episodic closer, "Life is Just a Game" and the acoustic reprise with McLaughlin and, this time, percussionist Milt Holland on "Desert Song," there was also a focus on largely shorter songs, including a very radio-friendly 2:55 running time with the frenzied funk of "Hot Fun."
Drummer Gerry Brown appears with Clarke for the first time, and it's his work here, combining some of Gadd's grease with a busier approach more in keeping with the rest of his band mates (Gadd often flying in direct contrast, capable of massive chops but rarely resorting to them) that, no doubt, led to his recruitment for RTF following its post-Romantic Warrior (Columbia, 1976) flip from guitar-heavy to brass and string-driven. Guitarist Raymond Gomez leaned considerably more to the visceral feel of Bill Connors, rather than the admittedly virtuosic but somehow soulless mechanics of Di Meola, but possessed greater dexterity to match some of Clarke's seemingly impossible gymnastics.
If Clarke's first three recordings for Epic represented a muscular and extremely impressive trilogy of outrageous bombast, bringin' home the funk, arena rock-centricities and the occasional glimmer of tasteful restraint and lower-volume acoustics, then 1977's Modern Man amplified the very worst of Clarke's traits and almost completely eliminated the positives. Clarke had sung before, and on each of his recordingsnot to mention becoming more key in that role, alongside Corea's wife, Gayle Moran, in the MusicMagic (Columbia, 1977) incarnation of RTFbut Modern Man features his singing on two radio-intended Earth, Wind & Fire rip-offs ("He Lives On" and "Got to Find My Own Place") and an extended and excessive rework of one of RTF's best songs on the first side of No Mystery (Polydor, 1975), the ebullient "Dayride."
"It's people like you what's cause unrest," Monty Python's John Cleese once said, and it's tracks like "Opening (Statement)" and "Closing (Statement)" that began to give '70s fusion a (somewhat deservedly) bad name, including kitchen sink production values (including Clarke's "Cast of Thousands" footstompers and James Fiducia's 44 Magnum gun), with too much information vying for attention, and most of it superfluous and downright distracting. If School Days represented Clarke at his powerful best, Modern Man was the bassist at his ego-fueled worst.
With little else to go but up, I Wanna Play For You was a significant improvement, although its odd combination of live and studio recordings makes for an uneven listen. In the studio, Clarke continues to move towards a strange mix of R&B and flat-out rock 'n' roll, with the synth-driven "All About" sounding like a strange harbinger of what was to come in AORand not in a good way. And if "Jamaican Boy" finds Clarke getting "ire with I," the actual melodies have become a little repetitiveClarke's thumb-popping, finger-slapping approach to layering themes over low-end harmonic movement beginning to lose its freshness.
Still, there's less excess, as Clarke relies largely on smaller groups and guest turns by saxophonist Tom Scott, George Duke and Freddie Hubbard, though the trumpeter is hard-pushed to do much with the discofied, handclap-driven "Together Again." This double-disc release of I Wanna Play for You does, however, return it to its original running order, the previous CD release omitting three tracks, in order to squeeze it onto a single CD, and reordering it so that the studio and live tracks are segregated. Not that it was a bad idea, as the live material definitely eclipses the studio tracks, even the more straight-ahead "Blues for Mingus," which sticks out as a superfluous piece of esoterica. Still, Clarke's high-speed volleys over Gerry Brown and pianist Michael Garson's incendiary playing on the too-brief "Off the Planet" makes clear that Clarke's lost none of his jazz credhe's just chosen to bury it.
Live 1976-1977 is the album that delivers on I Wanna Play For You's promise of four live songs totaling just 30 minutes. The only crossovers are the title track to School Days and the softer "Quiet Afternoon" from the same album, here given an even better reading with the inclusion of Bob Malach and Alfie Williams' flutes. And while "Dayride" is expanded from the version on RTF's No Mystery, this version works where the one on Modern Man didn't, sporting a set-defining soprano saxophone solo from Williams. The heavily scored "The Magician," first heard on RTF's Romantic Warrior, actually works better here, with Al Harrison and James Tinsley's horns grounding it more than Corea's synths. Recorded largely from two tours with line-ups that, including horns, range in size from the duo of "Bass Folk Song No. 2" to the full-blown septet of "Lopsy Lu"and with Raymond Gomez and Gerry Brown the constants throughoutthese performances are leaner, meaner and far better than anything on I Wanna Play for You.
All of which gives The Complete 1970s Epic Albums Collection a score of somewhere considerably less than perfect: four superbly strong recordings in Stanley Clarke, Journey to Love, School Days and Live 1976-1977; one dud with Modern Man and one middling recording with I Wanna Play For You. Sometimes you've gotta take the bad with the good, and if the bad here is, indeed, very bad, then the goodfor fans of a time when major labels supported unfettered (and, admittedly, sometimes overreaching) experimentation, to the betterment and detriment of allis very, very good. Clarke's successes largely outweigh his failures, rendering them, if not exactly acceptable, then certainly ignorable.
Tracks: Vulcan Princess; Yesterday Princess; Lopsy Lu; Power; Spanish Phases for Strings and Brass; Life Suite—Part 1; Life Suite—Part 2; Life Suite—Part 3; Life Suite—Part 4.
Personnel: Stanley Clarke: electric bass, acoustic bass, vocals, fuzz phaser, brass orchestration (1); Jan Hammer: Moog synthesizer, electric piano, organ, acoustic piano; Bill Connors: electric guitar, acoustic guitar; Tony Williams: drums; Peter Gordon: brass (1, 5-9); David Taylor: brass (1, 5-9); Jon Faddis: brass (1, 5-9); James Buffington: brass (1, 5-9); Lew Soloff: brass (1, 5-9); Garnett Brown: brass (1, 5-9); Michael Gibbs: string orchestration (5-9), brass orchestration (6-9); David Nadien: strings (5-9); Charles P. McCracken: strings (5-9); Jesse Levy: strings (5-9); Carol Buck: strings (5-9); Beverly Lauridsen: strings (5-9); Harry Cykman: strings (5-9); Harold Kohon: strings (5-9); Paul Gershman: strings (5-9); Harry Lookofsky: strings (5-9); Emanuel Green: strings (5-9).
Journey to Love
Tracks: Silly Putty; Journey to Love; Hello Jeff; Song to John (Part I)—Dedicated to John Coltrane; Song to John (Part II)—Dedicated to John Coltrane; Concerto for Jazz/Rock Orchestra.
Personnel: Stanley Clarke: Alembix electric bass, piccolo bass with Maestro synthesizer (6), acoustic bass, hand bells, tubular bells, organ, gong, vocal; George Duke: Mini-Moog synthesizer, ARP Odyssey, organ, ARP String Ensemble; clavinet; acoustic piano, electric piano, bells and vocal (1-3, 6); David Sancious: electric guitar, 12-string guitar; Steve Gadd (1, 2, 6): drums; Jeff Beck: electric guitar (3); Lenny White: drums (3); Chick Corea: acoustic piano (4, 5); Mahavishnu John McLaughlin: acoustic guitar (4, 5); Peter Gordon: brass (6); David Taylor: brass (6); Jon Faddis: brass (6); Alan Rubin: brass (6); Lew Soloff: brass (6); Thomas Malone: brass (6); John Clarke: brass (6); Earl Chapin: brass (6); Wilmer Wise: brass (6).
Tracks: School Days; Quiet Afternoon; The Dancer; Desert Song; Hot Fun; Life is Just a Game.
Personnel: Stanley Clarke: electric bass guitar (1-3, 5, 6), handbells (1), vocal (1, 6), acoustic piano (2, 3), piccolo bass guitar with instant flanger (2),piccolo bass guitar (3, 6), humming (3), acoustic bass (4, 6), gong (6), chimes (6); David Sancious: keyboards (1), Mini-Moog synthesizer (2, 3), organ (3), electric guitar (5); Raymond Gomez: guitar (1), rhythm guitar (3), solo guitar (3), electric guitar (5); Gerry Brown: drums (1, 3), handbells (1); Steve Gadd: drums (2, 5); Milton Holland: percussion (3), conga (4), triangle (4); John McLaughlin: acoustic guitar (4); George Duke: keyboards (6); Icarus Johnson: electric guitar (6), acoustic guitar (6); Billy Cobham: drums (6), Moog 1500 (6); David Campbell: strings (6); Dennis Karmazyn: strings (6); Lya Stern: strings (6); Thomas Bulfum: strings (6); Janice Adler Gower: strings (6); Mareia Van Dyke: strings (6); Karen Jones: strings (6); Robert Dubow: strings (6); Ronald Strauss: strings (6); Rollice Dale: strings (6); Gordon Marron: strings (6); John Wittenberg: strings (6); Marilyn Baker: strings (6); Jack Nimitz: brass (6); Buddy Childers: brass (6); Lew McCreary: brass (6); Dalton Smith: brass (6); Robert Findlay: brass (6); Gary Grant: brass (6); George Bohanon: brass (6); William Peterson: brass (6); Stuart Blumberg: brass (6); Albert Aarons: brass (6).
Tracks: Opening (Statement); He Lives On (Story About the Last Journey of a Warrior); More Hot Fun; Slow Dance; Interlude: A Serious Occasion; Got to Find My Own Place; Dayride; Interlude: It's What She Didn't Say; Modern Man; Interlude: A Relaxed Occasion; Rock 'n' Roll Jelly; Closing (Statement).
Stanley Clarke: acoustic bass (1, 9), Alembic bass (1-4, 6, 7, 9), narration (1), acoustic piano (2, 9), piccolo bass (2, 4), vocal (2, 6, 7), bass (5, 8, 10), string arrangement (6); Al Harrison: B-Flat trumpet (1, 3, 7, 12), piccolo trumpet (1, 3, 7, 12), trumpet (6), flugelhorn (6); James Tinsley: B-Flat trumpet (1, 3, 7, 12), piccolo trumpet (1-3, 7, 12), trumpet (6), flugelhorn (6); Bobby Malach: tenor saxophone (1, 3, 6, 7, 12), soprano saxophone (6); Alfie Williams: soprano saxophone (1, 7, 12), baritone saxophone (1, 12), tenor saxophone (6), flute (6); Dale Devoe: trombone (1, 6, 7, 12); Michael Garson: Oberheim synthesizer (1, 3, 7, 12), Moog synthesizer (1, 3, 12), organ (1, 12), acoustic piano (4, 6); Raymond Gomez: guitar (1, 3, 6, 7, 12); Gerry Brown: drums (1, 3, 6, 7, 12), percussion (1, 3, 7, 12); Steve Gadd: cymbal (1, 12); Dee Dee Bridgewater: vocal (1); A Cast of Thousands: footstompers (1, 12); Jeff "Skunk" Baxter: electric guitar (2), pedal steel guitar (2), synthesizer guitar (2); Jeff Porcaro: drums (2, 4, 9), percussion (2); Juliia Waters: vocal (3, 4); Maxine Waters: vocal (3, 4); Charles Veal, Jr.: concert master (6, 9), violin (6, 9); Alice Sacha: violin (6, 9); Connie Kupka: violin (6, 9); Cynthia Kovacs: violin (6, 9); Debra Price: violin (6, 9); Frank Foster: violin (6, 9); Josef Schoenbrun: violin (6, 9); Kenneth Yerke: violin (6, 9); Marsha Van Dyke: violin (6, 9); Ronald Clark: violin (6, 9); Sandy Seymour: violin (6, 9); Steve Scharf: violin (6, 9); Barbara Thomason: viola (6, 9); Leonard Selic: viola (6, 9); Mark Kovacs: viola (6, 9); Rollice Dale: viola (6, 9); Harry Shultz: cello (6, 9); Jan Kelly: cello (6, 9); Niles Oliver: cello (6, 9); Ron Cooper: cello (6, 9); Jeff Beck: guitar (11); Carmine Appice: drums (11), stereo wah-wah bass (11); James Fiducia: 44 Magnum Gun (12).
I Wanna Play For You
Tracks: CD1: Rock 'n' Roll Jelly; All About; Jamaican Boy; Christopher Ivanhoe; My Greatest Hits; Strange Weather; I Wanna Play for You. CD2: School Days; Quiet Afternoon; Together Again; Blues for Mingus; Off the Planet; Hot Fun Closing.
Personnel: Stanley Clarke: electric bass (CD1#1-3, CD1#5-9, CD2#1, CD2#6), organ (CD1#1), piccolo bass guitar (CD1#2, CD1#7-8, CD2#2, CD2#5), piano (CD1#2), vocal (CD1#2, CD1#7, CD1#9), Oberheim synthesizer (CD1#6, CD1#8), talkbox (CD1#7-8), all instruments except noted (CD1#4, CD2#3), acoustic bass (CD2#4); Al Harrison: B-Flat trumpet (CD1#1, CD2#1-2, CD2#6); James Tinsley: B-Flat trumpet (CD1#1, CD2#1-2, CD2#6); Bob Malachs: tenor saxophone (CD1#1, CD2#1-2, CD2#6); Al Williams: baritone saxophone (CD1#1, CD2#6), soprano saxophone (CD2#2); Michael Garson: Oberheim synthesizer (CD1#1, CD2#2), Fender Rhodes (CD2#2), ARP String Ensemble (CD2#2, CD2#6), acoustic piano (CD2#4), Yamaha Electric Grand Piano (CD2#5); Raymond Gomez: electric guitar (CD1#1, C2#1-2, CD2#6); Gerry Brown: drums (CD1#1, CD2#1); Bayeté Todd Cochran: Oberheim synthesizer (CD1#2, CD1#9, CD2#6), ARP 2600 synthesizer (CD1#2, CD1#6, CD1#9, CD2#6), acoustic piano (CD1#3), organ (CD1#3), ARP String Ensemble (3); Darryl Brown: drums (CD1#2, CD1#4-5, CD1#7, CD2#2, CD2#4-6), cymbal (CD1#6); Airto Moreira: percussion (CD1#2); Jeff Beck: electric guitar (CD1#3); Steve Gadd: drums (CD1#3); Tom Scott: alto saxophone (CD1#4), Lyricon (CD1#7, 8); George Duke: Yamaha electric grand piano (CD1#7-8); Harvey Mason: drums (CD1#7-9); Cathy Carson: vocal (CD1#8-9); Gwen Owens: vocal (CD1#8-9); Juanita Curiel: vocal (CD1#8-9); Stan Getz: tenor saxophone (CD1#9); Ronnie Foster: electric piano (CD1#9); David DeLeon: electric bass (CD2#2); Freddie Hubbard: flugelhorn (CD2#3).
Tracks: School Days; Lopsy Lu; Quiet Afternoon; Silly Putty; Dayride; Bass Folk Song No. 3; The Magician; Desert Song; Vulcan Princess.
Personnel: Stanley Clarke: electric bass guitar (1-5, 7, 9); piccolo bass guitar (3), acoustic bass (6, 8); Al Harrison: B-flat trumpet (1-5, 7, 9), slide whistle (7), piccolo trumpet (7); James Tinsley: B-flat trumpet (1-5, 7, 9), piccolo trumpet (7), alarm clock (7); Bob Malach: tenor saxophone (1-5), flute (3); Alfie Williams: soprano saxophone (1, 4, 5), alto saxophone (2), flute (3), baritone saxophone (4); Peter Robinson: Fender Rhodes (1-5), B-3 organ (1-5), ARP String Ensemble (1-5), Mini-Moog bass (1, 3, 4); Raymond Gomez: electric guitar (1-5, 7, 9); Gerry Brown: drums (1-5, 7, 9); David Sancious: electric piano (6, 7, 9), B-3 organ (7, 9), Mini-Moog synthesizer (7, 9), Poly-Moog synthesizer (7, 9); John McLaughlin: acoustic guitar (8); Darryl Munyungo Jackson: percussion (8).