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Mike Clark: Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 1

Clark is a legend among drummers for his groundbreaking work on Herbie Hancock’s 1974 landmark, Thrust (particularly on the track “Actual Proof,” which elevated the standard of funk drumming to a new level by incorporating slick syncopation, hip time displacement and an overall looser, jazzier approach).

On this swinging affair, the first in the Blueprints of Jazz series of straightahead releases on the San Francisco-based Talking House label, Clark has assembled a crew of heavy hitters in bassist Christian McBride, keyboardist Patrice Rushen, trumpeter Christian Scott, alto saxophonist Donald Harrison and tenor saxophonist Jed Levy. His intention here is to defy the stereotype that he is strictly a funk and fusion drummer (following his stint with Hancock’s Headhunters he joined the British fusion band Brand X, replacing Kenwood Dennard in the drum chair). From Levy’s opening uptempo burner “In the House” (which features an incredible drum solo) to the slow, noir-ish “10th Ave. 1957” to the aggressively swinging “Morning Became Electra,” there is indeed a strong element of uncut jazz here, with all the players providing thoughtful accompaniment and contributing stellar solos to the proceedings.

Clark does pull out his signature syncopated funk beat on the pocket groover “Loft Funk,” an organic throwdown that has McBride digging deep. Trumpeter Scott contributes the evocative “Clark Kent,” which has the great drummer playing in the cracks. And on Clark’s own 5/4 modal vehicle, “Conchita’s Dance,” he emulates the rolling-over-the-barline pulse of Elvin Jones. To continue that Elvin connection, Clark closes out the collection on brushes with a sublime rendition of the classic Billy Eckstine composition “I Want to Talk About You” (a ballad vehicle for John Coltrane), which features inspired solos from both Harrison and Rushen.

If Clark’s stellar 2003 recording, Summertime, hadn’t already established the fact that he is indeed a brilliant jazz drummer, this superb release makes the case in no uncertain terms.

Originally Published