Review Summary: A fusion classic still holds its own in the 21st century.
Jaco Pastorius gets a lot of credit for revolutionizing the bass, putting it front and center. Perhaps equally important, however, Stanley Clarke came out with School Days the same year as Jaco’s legendary debut album. While Jaco relied more on harmonics and standard (yet extremely challenging) bass playing, Clarke delved far more into slapping and bass chording (i.e. the influential title track). With its fun music and great musicianship, especially from Clarke, School Days is another essential album for the aspiring bass virtuoso.
“School Days,” “The Dancer,” and “Life Is Just a Game” have the sort of groove to be expected of a CD with a bassist as band leader. His light, bass chording that sets up “School Days” is simple, but effective enough to drive the song as the guitar goes crazy before joining Clarke. The title track is a beautifully layered, fun song, with some fun bass tricks thrown into the solo.
Both “The Dancer” and “Hot Fun” rely heavily on Clarke’s bass line, so there is little progression, and they come out as weaker, though still fun, tracks in the process. Stanley keeps the groove going, a good mix of experimentation and song sensibility, the band helps to keep him grounded. He writes fantastic bass lines, but in these songs the synths and strings aren’t up to par.
The other fusion elements do get a little imposing, especially the synths. This record was made in 1976, so the sound is a little dated, making for some boring solos, but Clarke’s playing is still very fresh. He pulls enough bass acrobatics with enough confidence to keep things interesting. For the finale, “Life Is Just a Game,” Clarke throws in some nice vocals along with nice, aggressive horns. It’s a good mix of slow and fast, before heading into the solos, with some of the fastest slap bass on the entire album. By the end, Clarke decided we might as well know there was no one who could slap like him in 1976.
On the slower tracks that Clarke shows his abilities as a song writer. There’s none of the slap bass or harmonics. In “Desert Song,” Clarke puts down a nice, subdued solo in a generally relaxing song, only to be bested by none other than John McLaughlin with a wonderful acoustic guitar solo. “Quiet Afternoon” is based around Clarke’s bass line and the simple, quiet piano chord progression, it works very well. The slow tracks are very relaxing, a nice shift from the faster, more groove-orientated tracks.
Stanely Clarke was a huge influence on the future of bass playing. While Larry Graham had introduced us to slap bass, Clarke made it an art, he pushed it to the limits, all while staying in the boundaries of good taste. In his efforts to see what he could do with a bass, he never lost the fun or the groove. Something that in 2007, he seems to have forgotten.
Recommended Tracks: School Days, Quiet Afternoon, Desert Song