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Stanley Clarke Band: The Message (Mack Avenue)

Review of the fusion bass star's latest offering

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Cover of Stanley Clarke Band album The Message
Cover of Stanley Clarke Band album The Message

The message from the latest version of the Stanley Clarke Band might be summed up in the chorus of this album’s closer, “To Be Alive”: “I’m so happy to be alive,” Doug E. Fresh raps over a sticky R&B groove. The vibe of these 11 tracks is so loose that the fusion star, prolific soundtrack composer, and still mighty bass doubler gives himself the license to open up with a two-minute extended riff, “And Ya Know We’re Missing You,” which salutes an odd mix of musicians listed in the liner notes (Al Jarreau, Ndugu Chancler, Tom Petty, Chuck Berry, Larry Coryell, and Darryl Brown) over Fresh’s beatbox rhythms and Clarke’s fierce slap-and-pop with talkbox action.

Clarke and a core group of younger cats—Cameron Graves of Kamasi Washington’s band on synthesizers, pianist Beka Gochiashvili, and drummer Mike Mitchell—turn in a set that, musically, is a bit all over the place. Hubbard-esque (as in L. Ron) images and ideas seem to inform several tracks, including the vocal harmony-drenched “Lost in a World” and “After the Cosmic Rain/Dance of the Planetary Prince,” with its neo-symphonic wordless vocals, flutes, trumpets, and keyboards stacked on a boiling percussion mix of drums and Salar Nadar’s tumbling tabla.

There are also nods to current politics, such as “The Rugged Truth,” featuring techno-ish beats and quick bass guitar/acoustic piano lines in the Return to Forever vein; “Alternative Facts,” a revved-up piano trio ditty with Clarke on upright; and “Combat Continuum,” a War of the Worlds-type tale, complete with voice actor Steve Blum’s narration, about an invasion of aliens who, really, just wanted to use their technology to heal our ailing planet.

All that, a quiet ballad (“The Legend of the Abbas and the Sacred Talisman”), and an unaccompanied “Bach Cello Suite 1 (Prelude),” too.

Preview, buy or download The Message on Amazon!

Originally Published