Bassist Stanley Clarke Records First Acoustic Jazz Trio Album Featuring Hiromi and Lenny White
In a career that spans nearly four decades and includes gigs with Return to Forever, Rite of Strings and a variety of other solo and collaborative projects along the way, bassist Stanley Clarke – one of the most prominent voices in electric jazz and fusion – had seemingly covered every possible corner of the jazz landscape. But there was one avenue he had yet to explore.
“I had never done an acoustic bass record, ever,” he says. “There’s a long list of people on whose records I’ve played acoustic bass – Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, Joe Henderson and many others – but I’d never done an acoustic jazz trio record of my own. So I wanted to record one that would just feature the piano and the acoustic bass in a way that you could really hear the bass.”
This long-overdue dream project becomes a reality with the worldwide release of Jazz In The Garden (HUCD 3155) on Heads Up International, a division of Concord Music Group. For his first straightahead acoustic jazz trio recording, Clarke assembles two brilliant collaborators at the top of their respective games: pianist Hiromi Uehara and drummer Lenny White. Each represents a distinctly different generational and cultural perspective, but given the range and versatility of both, the net effect is superb. Indeed, the synergy resulting from all three of these luminaries makes for one of the most refreshing Stanley Clarke recordings in recent years.
“Lenny is like a walking encyclopedia of jazz history,” says Clarke, who first played with White in Joe Henderson’s band when both session men were barely out of their teens, and later in the fusion-oriented Return To Forever. “Lenny is the guy who will never let you forget tradition, ever. When it comes to drummers, it’s fashionable to think that the one who plays the fastest or has the most gear is the best guy. But the guy you really want is the guy who’s smart – the guy who really has a lot upstairs. That’s Lenny.”
White likens his relationship with Clarke to some of the great pairings in sports. “In football, there was Joe Montana and Jerry Rice in San Francisco,” he says. “In baseball, there was Tom Seaver and Jerry Grote with the Mets. These were some very successful combinations. And then in jazz, you have some great pairings of drummers and bass players like Tony Williams and Ron Carter, or Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison. I rank Stanley and myself among those pairings. We’ve played together for so long, in so many different kinds of situations. We started out by playing straightahead music together, and then that morphed into the jazz-rock fusion, which became a movement in itself. Now we’re coming back full-circle with this recording.”
Clarke was less familiar with Hiromi, a Berklee-trained protégé of Ahmad Jamal and Chick Corea who made her recording debut only six years ago. Since then, she has shaken up the piano jazz scene with a riveting style that ranges from the traditional to the avant garde. “I checked her out, and I realized that she was really, really talented,” says Clarke. “To be so young, and yet have so much knowledge – about melody, about harmony, about rhythm – is very rare. It’s very unusual for a piano player under the age of thirty to have that kind of maturity. That’s what’s cool about her.”
To date, Hiromi has committed much of her compositional and performance energies toward pushing the music to the outside, but she welcomed the opportunity to do something a little more traditional. “I’ve always loved straightahead jazz,” she says. “I’d just never done it in my own projects. So I was very happy to be able to do it finally. And to do it with these two musicians was more than I could have hoped for. I didn’t feel any walls. They were very welcoming. They were very open to what I had to offer.”
In many ways, Jazz in the Garden is Stanley Clarke’s way of reconnecting with a time much earlier in his career before his plunge into electric jazz – a time when he earned his stripes playing acoustic bass with some of the most enduring names in the annals of jazz. “There are times when you want to revisit the things that really established the foundation in your life,” he says. “I spent many, many years studying acoustic bass, and many years playing in New York after I left Philadelphia in the late ‘60s. I played with everyone who was there at the time. It was a long time ago, but all that stuff from that period is what made me who I am. This record is my way of reconnecting with that time and that music.”