Review Summary: It is because of albums like this that no one likes jazz.
So Stanley Clarke, renowned fusion bassist, has come out with a new CD. And yet, as I began listening, I felt as if I were back in the 70s. The CD has the bright keyboards and slightly off guitar/violin work of an old John McLaughlin album. And when Clarke isn’t regurgitating a long gone style of music, he engages in some disgusting bass wankery minus the fun that Victor Wooten puts in his music.
I can put up with a lack of originality-the Darkness is one of my favorite bands and I enjoyed Wolfmother when I saw them at a festival. So had I learned Stanley Clarke’s new CD involved a lot of old fusion tricks before buying, I wouldn’t have been overly concerned. But listening to the music, not only is it something I’ve heard many times before, it’s a poor reenactment. It’s not very exciting, and aside from Stanley’s solo tracks and a few fills, there’s a jarring lack of musicianship.
It’s hard to comment on the drumming (which has its moments), the keyboards, the supremely 70s fusion violin, or even Stanley Clarke’s bass through most tracks. The band drags on through “The Toys of Men,” “La Cancion de Sofa,” and “Chateauvallon 1972” to name a few. It’s all just so dull. Perhaps the band is waiting for Stanley to take charge. And he does have some decent bass lines, in “Game” and the beginning of “Bad A*ses.” But bass lines are only one ingredient of a good song.
Stanley Clarke takes complete control for several tracks. For about half of the CD, Stanley plays alone aside from a few moments of percussion. He can slap, and I can’t think of any one who can play stand-up bass better. But every one of these tracks is boring, lacking any resemblance to a song. They all display Stanley waiting for something to happen as he explores the neck of his bass, in “El Bajo Negro” he waits for a sweet seven minutes. I do the same on piano, I just have the common sense not to record it.
I enjoyed two songs, and almost enjoyed one other. “Jerusalem” has a certain ambience, courtesy of some light cymbal work and acoustic guitar underneath Clarke’s solo. It’s not a great song, but it’s a song, with some good work by Clarke. “All Over Again” features some vocals from Esperanza Spalding, forcing the band to go into the background (aside from some neat bass chording while she sings). It’s a good change of pace. I thought the band would liven up at the beginning of “Bad As*ses” which begins with some nice slapping and enthusiastic drums. But the rest of the band never comes, and instead we are treated to five minutes of slap bass without groove or shame.
I have another Stanley Clarke CD, School Days. Like The Toys of Men, it is a fusion record highlighting Clarke’s mastery of the bass. The only difference is (aside from the thirty years between them): School Days is good. I pray I am not reminded of Toys of Men the next time I listen to School Days.
Recommended Tracks: All Over Again, Jerusalem But they're not all that great.