Thursday, June 26, 2003

Clarke's short set long on virtuosity

Concert review

By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Jazz acts are expected to play two sets. So Stanley Clarke, being a funk-fusion crossover act, can get away with only doing one and splitting.

That's the lone complaint anyone could be left with after Clarke's Wednesday-night show at the 20th Century Theatre in Oakley. The bass virtuoso did seven songs in 90 minutes, which may seem too brief, considering there was no opening act. But the concise performance was filled with jaw-dropping musicianship, and the set was representative of Clarke's varied career and varied tastes. A crowd of over 300 was on hand for the show.

Clark, who established his name as a sideman for jazz greats in the early '70s, found his sound in mid-to-late-'70s fusion and later became one of the most successful film-score composers this side of John Williams. There was a bit of all of that in the set: a nod to giants of jazz; plenty of fusion; and several soundscape-dreamscape moments where notes hung in the air like buzzing neon lights.

And best of all, there was one classic funk cover that made the night.

Clarke, who switched between electric bass guitar and an upright acoustic, was backed by a quintet, each man a heady lead player in his own right. The lineup was two keyboard players, a violinist, a drummer and another bass player. There was no guitarist, unless you count Clarke, who, with only four strings at hand, could make like John McLaughlin or Jimi Hendrix at his will.

Not counting the leader, the crowd's favorite band member seemed to be 22-year-old Mads Tolling, a Danish violinist recommended to Clarke by the man to whom Tolling could easily be compared as a player, Jean-Luc Ponty. All of his solos received standing ovations, while the more subdued stars of the night were veteran Clarke drummer Gerry Brown and super-session bassist Armand Sabal-Lecco.

The show started with a solo-spotlight song, where each guy took a turn fronting the group. It proved to be a little too much virtuosity and not enough tune, and from that point on the selections were better and better, from Charles Mingus' Lester Young tribute "Good Bye Pork Pie Hat" to the everlasting riff of Clarke's "School Days" to a cover of Parliament's "Mothership Connection" that had the entire room on its feet the whole way through.


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