1. Rock ‘N’ Roll Jelly
2. All About
3. Jamaican Boy
4. Christopher Ivanhoe
5. My Greatest Hits
6. School Days
7. Quiet Afternoon
8. Strange Weather
9. I Wanna Play For You
10. Just A Feeling
11. The Streets Of Philadelphia
12. Together Again
13. Blues For Mingus
14. Off The Planet
15. Hot Fun-Closing
Source: Vinyl LP
Format: 320kbps MP3
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First of all, an apology to the millions…and the millions of The Doc’s fans who were wondering where he might have been all this time. The past few months have been rather busy for me, and I’ve needed a little time to somewhat recover from the events of months ago. It ain’t all nice and pretty yet, but it’s getting there.
For now, let’s talk about this album. Stanley Clarke is an artist that needs no introduction. When it comes to bass playing, his name is one that always enters the conversation. All you have to do is mention his name, and you get a reaction. George Duke did so at a show I attended in 2007, recalling the last he was in Cleveland. The crowd erupted in cheers. Later on, I recall having seen Stanley live with Return To Forever in 2008, the crowd in Cleveland boasting a horde of Black folk eager to see the man play (he was easily the most popular figure on the stage). He is a musical legend.
Of all the albums Stanley Clarke recorded, this one, a 1979 set originally for Epic Records, is perhaps my all-time favorite ever recorded by Stanley as a solo artist. Sure, School Days was his commercial breakthrough, an excellent display of his talent, and perhaps his most famous album; in fact, many of the tracks here are live renditions of songs from that very album. The albums preceding School Days may have showcased his excellent grasp on acoustic jazz and as it’s called “jazz fusion”. However, this one, right here is the favorite of them all of his initial run as a solo artist. Why, this album, with its piggybacking his greatest success to date, with singing some reviewers have called “garish”? Why not the excellent Journey To Love?
To explain this, I must explain how I came to know who Stanley Clarke was in the first place: 1981’s The Clarke/Duke Project. Now, I know, many of you reading this are probably reacting like “WTF? The Clarke/Duke Project? That milquetoast something or other…”. RUBBISH. To fans of both artists, many hold that album in high regard. Its sequels, not so much.
In the mid-1980s, Poppa Claw brought home a curious device: the compact disc player. As a kid, I used to look at these fragile, shiny discs with awe. At the time, being still as they played, so as not to disrupt the flow of the reading laser was key, not unlike playing an LP record. However, you could skip around to tracks like an 8-track, rewind and fast forward like a compact cassette, but have a clear sound unlike anything, even the vinyl LP could produce. At the time, having one of these devices in the home was a big deal. To start off, Poppa Claw had picked up quite a few CDs (which, over the years, became towers and towers of music on disc…a habit that was passed on to me, of course), mostly those “Two Records On One Compact Disc” collections Motown issued at the time. A curious outlier among the bunch was The Clarke/Duke Project.
I had no concept of Stanley Clarke or George Duke at the time, but upon hearing this music, I loved it. I liked the way the duo sung their songs, the way the songs were composed, I liked the funny sound of Stanley’s bass guitar on songs like “Wild Dog” (even though, when I used to peer at the pictures on the album inset, I got the two mixed up in my mind. For some reason, I associated George Duke’s falsetto with Stanley’s Gregory Hines-ish look). Eventually, I got the personalities right. As a teenager over a decade later, I rediscovered that CD, and in my zeal to get closer and closer to the nostalgic memories of my early years in Western New York, I became even more enamoured with the record to the point I wished to learn more about the artists behind it.
Which brings me to this album. Figuring that 1979 was a good year to sample his music, as the year in general brought a certain sophistication to recorded music in general, I picked it up blindly from the record store. Before, I had heard School Days and some other albums, which at times, reminded me of The Clarke/Duke Project, but not quite all the way. This album, however, did remind me of that album, albeit, with the absence of one George Duke. The Dukey influence was present here (as it was on School Days, where he had a Dukey soundalike playing on songs like “Quiet Afternoon”), but for some reason, I really liked Stanley’s singing. It really did complement George Duke’s (rather superior) singing when they worked together, but alone, it was somewhat pleasant, somewhat honest. That he didn’t hire any outside help (yet) seemed to make the songs more personal.
As Stanley is concerned, it wasn’t until I started discussing music on the Internet, that I found out that Stanley’s stylings as a singer were not always welcome… and even more so, despite his virtuoso grasp of his chosen instrument, his influence on bass players, some did not always see him as the funkiest player in the land. Which is fine; in a world where Marcus Miller, Louis Johnson and the like exist, it’s easy to say such a thing. However, some even went so far to accuse Stanley of being as Parliament would say D’Voidoffunk, which is just false.
Sure, Stanley may have had moments like when he looked lost next to Larry Graham as examples of such, and outside of Return to Forever, he seemed more intent on playing his bass like a lead guitar rather than drop funky basslines, but he had his moments. Many of them, even. The aforementioned Clarke/Duke Project was Stanley’s answer to the critics. “I Just Want To Love You” is one of his best compositions (not to mention one of his best basslines), and “Never Judge A Cover By Its Book” was funky smooth, for starters. Though, critics seemed disappointed that The Clarke/Duke Project wasn’t a magnum opus of Return To Forever/MPS-era George Duke fusion madness. I wonder if the critics were paying attention to what either artist was doing in the years surrounding that record.
In particular, this album contains some of Stanley’s funkiest and most “R&B”-ish work as a solo artist up to the point it was recorded, best exemplified in the album’s title track. For a track recorded in 1979, it still feels somewhat modern (outside of the vocals), but one could slip this on VH1 Soul amid some neo-soul and not raise an eyebrow. Though funk isn’t the only order of the day — the material on this album runs a genre-hopping gauntlet from quasi-rock-jazz to calypso to acoustic jazz to fusion jazz to MOR pop music (“The Streets Of Philadelphia”, another one of my all-time favorite Stanley Clarke songs). I wouldn’t be surprised, even though it scarcely shows in his output, if Stanley Clarke’s greatest muse was Jimi Hendrix. There’s something about Jimi’s “otherness” as an artist that I sometimes get from Stanley (who became quite conventional when he fully embraced R&B), not to say anything about their shared virtuoso grasp of their chosen instrument. Understanding this, one can understand how Stanley makes an album like I Wanna Play For You.
Full disclosure: This is a repost from the now-defunct MyJazzWorld, one of my favorite blogs. I own the CD, but here lies a problem: Sony Music must have manufactured it during a time where CD media could only contain 65 or so minutes of music. So some songs (“All About”, and “Off The Planet” to name a couple) were deleted, and the rest were just jumbled about like listeners who had the LP long ago wouldn’t notice. C’mon Sony. That was just a bad move. It wasn’t the only time they would do such a thing, as I recall the same thing happening to a couple of Weather Report albums. So Sony Music Entertainment, if you’re reading this — first, don’t tase me with a lawsuit, bro. Secondly, please re-release this album as it was originally recorded sometime soon. Even if you have to use your “Special Products” division as you allowed George Duke to re-release some of his neglected early Epic records.