Thursday, January 3, 2008

Stanley Clarke: The Toys of Men

Heads Up International
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 1.3.08
Buy CD: The Toys of Men

Clarke is another iconic bassist who has played with many of the jazz giants. He entered the New York scene shortly after graduating from the Philadelphia Academy of Music in 1971, and immediately found work with the likes of Art Blake, Horace Silver, Dexter Gordon, Gil Evans and a young Chick Corea. 

Clarke and Corea formed the electric jazz/fusion group, Return To Forever, one of the most famous groups of that era. By age 25, Clarke was recognized as the prime pioneer of the jazz fusion movement. He doubled on both the electric and acoustic instruments; he also invented and played two "new" instruments, the piccolo and tenor basses. 

Clarke is a multi-Grammy Award winner, has been the model for aspiring young bassists for decades, and has recorded countless albums during his career. 

All of which makes this the hardest review that I've written in a long time. Quite simply, "The Toys of Men" is the poorest release I've ever heard from Clarke. Granted, his musicianship is excellent, as is that of all the artists supporting him in this endeavor. Sadly, the content is wanting. 

All the tunes were written and arranged by Clarke or other members of the group, and not one of them swings at any tempo. This obviously was intended to be a serious concept album — a musical anti-war expression — but the result is more ostentatious than moving. 

I've noticed this tendency in other great jazz artists: As they leave the zenith of their careers and move onward, they abandon the roots of the artistry and styles that made them famous, and decide it's time to "really get serious." This seldom works to their advantage. 

Once upon a time, Clarke was a joy to see and hear; he was exciting and moving. This album is neither. I don't want somebody preaching at me when I listen to music; I want to be awed and amazed by the genius at work. 

This album didn't do it.

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