Stanley Clarke ‘The Message’ CD (Mack Avenue) 3/5

Bassist, composer and producer Stanley Clarke is a musician of many talents and first came to international prominence in the 1970s with fusion bands (Return to Forever) and a host of other jazz musicians. Major success followed later in the early-mid 1980s as part of the Clarke-Duke Project and then as a producer for younger musicians/singers, but in recent years Clarke has returned to leader duties. This latest album is a summation of his multi-faceted career, and that means the good, bad, and indifferent. On the plus side, the quartet he currently works with operates best when in acoustic mode as on the uplifting and straight ahead ‘The Legend Of The Abbas And The Sacred Talisman’. Here acoustic piano (the excellent pianist Beha Gochiasvili) and bass combine wonderfully on a melodic number, and the same could be said of ‘Alternative Facts’. The only pity is that the rest of the album veers off in too many directions, some of which are wholly unappealing. Why incorporate rock guitar on ‘The Rugged Truth’, or deploy synths on the potentially interesting Indo-Jazz fusion of ‘After The Cosmic Rain/Dance Of The Planetary Prince’. Tablas and drone are by the 1980s style synth sound and that is a great pity because the idea of bringing together acoustic jazz and Indian classical is a praiseworthy one. Why not go the whole hog and devote more time to this? This is a critique that is equally valid of Stanley Clarke’s all too brief foray into western classical on the album. Lovely performance of a ‘Bach Cello Suite 1 (prelude)’, but why just one piece and how does that fit into the album as a whole? Again, a separate album devoted to Bach interpretations would have made more sense.

To confuse matters further, beat box and other voicings appear at various points. Of the former, Doug E. Fresh offers up some inventive sounds on ‘And Ya Know We’re Missing You’, but once again does this really make for a cohesive whole? In short, too eclectic by far and a frustrating hit and miss listening experience of an album.

Tim Stenhouse