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Stanley Clarke: The Toys of Men

Because Stanley Clarke got so immersed in film scoring and pop-jazz encounters with George Duke during the ’80s and into the ’90s, we sometimes forget what an extremely innovative and influential bass player he is. On The Toys of Men, his best album since 1975’s Journey To Love, he stretches his fabled chops to another level.

The title track is a powerful six-part suite that Clarke has revived intact from 1999’s Vertu, his collaboration with former Return to Forever bandmate Lenny White. There are definite nods to RTF’s Romantic Warrior and Mahavishnu Orchestra-type complexity in certain sections of this suite, notably the ferocious 5/4 fusion burn of “Part 2: Fear,” the intricate and densely orchestrated “Part 3: Chaos” and the dazzling unisons of “Part 6: God Light.” Clarke’s signature slap technique comes to the fore on funky vehicles like the super-charged “Come On” and “Bad Asses,” a groove of doom with the remarkably explosive drummer Ronald Bruner, Jr.

Clarke distinguishes himself on upright in brief solo bass interludes, including the earthy blues “Back in the Woods” and the Delta-fied “Hmm Hmm,” as well as on the seven-minute “Broski,” which features virtuosic bowing along with some startling two-handed percussive slapping on the body of his wooden instrument. The lyrical ballad “La Cancion de Sofia” is a bowed melody named for his wife while the slamming “Chateauvallon 1972” is a hard-hitting tribute to the late Tony Williams. More than 30 years later, Stanley Clarke’s still a badass on the bass.

Originally Published