Sunday, August 30, 2015

Stanley Clarke — School Days

   Stanley Clarke was one of youngest stars of jazz in seventies. He debuted in 1966 and when in 1976 he published his fourth solo album School Days, he was already noted as the best electric bass player and one of most influential artists on fusion jazz scene. Three prior albums gave him position of independent artist and classic of fusion jazz. He was famous as virtuoso for his innovative technique and wide creative horizons. Suggesting in the title and cover graphics a retrospective look to the past, maybe frolicsome reference to theoretical foundations or even some basic musical ideas, he made School Days one of most popular and influential albums in the history of bass centered recordings. And he achieved this position before he turned 25. In his rich discography one can find many great albums but it was School Days that became so popular and influential.
   Perfect equilibrium between virtuoso exhibition, creative invention and popular trends is what made this record so important. From the other hand, on earlier and later albums qualities of Stanley Clarke’s playing are always on constant, highest level. Maybe School Days just hit the moment? Whatever it was, in mid seventies Stanley Clarke’s records were bought not only by jazz audience. Album was recorded in June 1976, most of material at Electric Lady Studios in New York City, and last song Life Is Just a Game at A&M Studios in Los Angeles. Stanley Clarke’s solo in Life Is Just a Game and improvisation in duo with Billy Cobham was one of highlighted moments in fusion jazz legends. Over thirty musicians, new sound of electronic instruments, new rhythmic and emotional density and perfect arrangements were enormously attractive. Album was best seller and had peaked on 2nd position of Billboard Jazz Albums.

Stanley Clarke — School Days (1976)

   Title song opens first side, School Days with straight riff and cheerful theme with background voices by Clarke. In central part nice spatial effect based on strings gives space for electric bass solo expressive and consequently developing main riff motive. Coda with phrase sung by Clarke changes this short perspective giving a kick to next track. Quiet Afternoon is so much natural from formal point of view, it can be used as improvisation workshop for students. This is just theme and improvisation on background of bass and drums (Steve Gadd) with Clarke overdubbing himself with piccolo bass guitar especially build for artist what was officially mentioned in credits. Solo on piccolo bass Clarke played in third track The Dancer. Last song on first side has thicker facture, with synthesizers (David Sancious), two percussionists (Gerry Brown, Milton Holland) and guitarist Raymond Gomez. It could be seen as an answer for opening song, not only because of its joyous mood.
   Second side starts with beautiful acoustic ballade played by Clarke on upper bass with the bow, and with great pizzicato improvisation with elements of classic guitar technique. Playing the same on guitar would be a certificate of virtuoso level, on double bas it was just breaking the boundaries. As a counterweight acoustic guitar solo by John McLaughlin is based on sound nuances and acoustic effects impossible to execute on any other instrument. This perfect duo only accompaniment is conga and triangle played by Milton Holland. Great inspirational moment. This beautiful, reserved and magic composition is like an interlude leading to next track Hot Fun which again has more rhythmic and dance intensity, and beyond where all accumulated energy finds an outlet — to a grand finale and the only song with lyrics Life Is Just a Game. Lyrics are short but sung with nice voice. This conclusive composition is space where three basses played by Stanley Clarke are interfered with great solos by George Duke (keyboards), Icarus Johnson (guitar) and rousing drums by Billy Cobham. Power of great soloists was multiplied by string and brass orchestra of 23 members. For such nice and powerful piece of joyful music four stars is just rigorous rating.

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