The first time Stanley Clarke stepped up to the microphone on June 30, during one of his four performances at the 33rd annual Montreal International Jazz Festival, fans showered him with shouts of “Happy birthday!”
“I feel good. I’m 61-years old today,” responded Clarke, flexing his biceps in true Superman fashion. Then he flexed his muscle on the bass. And it was matched, brawn for brawn, by his fellow bassists onstage, Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten.
The trio-which goes by the name of SMV, utilizing the first letter of each of their first names-is nothing less than a dream come true for bass-heads. Clarke, Miller and Wooten are three rock stars of the jazz bass and this summit holds limitless appeal for a very specific, and very passionate, audience.
“Hope you like the bass,” Miller said to the capacity crowd assembled at the festival’s Théâtre Maisonneuve. “If you don’t like the bass, we are going to have a little bit of a problem. But if you do like the bass, we’re going to have a good time tonight.”
Suffice it to say that these fans definitely liked the bass, responding to each and every tune in the roughly two-hour set-drawn from SMV’s 2008 debut Thunder-with ecstatic applause.
There was so much electric bass going on that it was easy to overlook that there was also a drummer and a keyboardist onstage. Indeed, whenever one of those backing musicians grabbed a rare lead, one had to think, “Whoa! Where did that guy come from?”
The bassists kept things interesting by performing in different configurations, moving from the full trio through the three possible duo settings into solo turns. It also helped that the three bassists, who share much in common, decided to play intriguingly dissimilar solos. Wooten’s was edgy, funky and modern, but Miller was slick and tuneful.
While the others stuck to the electric, Clarke picked up the acoustic upright bass and wowed the crowd with his blazing hand speed and trademark combination of precision and power. Clarke is one of jazz music’s great showmen, but his showcase solo on this night seemed a tad over the top and self-indulgent, even by Stanley standards. Yet, the fans are the true judges, and they gave him a standing ovation for his effort.
And, come to think of it, that’s probably exactly what he wanted to get on his 61st birthday.
Note: Clarke is one of the “Invitation” series artists at the 33rd annual Montreal International Jazz Festival. Besides leading SMV, the bassist also performed three other Montreal Jazz gigs: in a duo setting with pianist Hiromi on June 28, with the Harlem String Quartet on June 29; and in the Stanley Clarke Band on July 1.