EFG London Jazz Festival: The Headhunters / The Stanley Clarke Band @ Royal Festival Hall

“The Stanley Clarke Band as did the Headhunters who preceded them, left an indelible mark in the minds of the concert goers who attended this most uplifting and multi-sensory stimulating of double bills at the prestigious Royal Festival Hall, London.”

Photos: Courtesy of Michael Antoniou Photography

The Headhunters

L-R: Jerry Z – keys/organ/bass, Mike Clarke – drums, Don Harrison – sax, Bill Summers – percussion

So as the lights dimmed within the sold out Royal Festival Hall auditorium, few were aware of what a superlative evening of Jazz music lay in store for them. As our host rightly professed, “Are you ready for this? We’ve got some serious legends in the house, so it’s gonna be serious! First we get to see some of the founding members of one of the best jazz fusion records of all time…So please give a warm EFG London Jazz Festival welcome to The Headhunters!”

To generous applause the band members assumed their positions before Percussion veteran extraordinaire Bill Summers casually dressed in white sweat shirt, blue baseball cap, dark trousers and trainers uttered “We don’t have that much time because we have to play the music, but this is the Royal Festival Hall, and we are so honoured and privileged to be in such a distinguished place. We love England, especially London. Thank you! So let’s get on with the music!”

Mr Summers moved swiftly on with the introduction of his three musical cohorts. Herbie Hancock’s former partner in crime Mike Clarke on drums, the versatile Jerry Z on keys/organ and bass keyboard and saxophone horn guru Donald Harrison, who in contrast to Bill was attired head to toe in a smart matt black suit and shirt combo. With everyone in situ the band kicked off with the spritely ‘4-String Drive’ from the album, ‘The Funk Stops Here’ which incorporated Bill Summers’ trademark tribal chants throughout. At the tune’s seemingly abrupt cessation, Donald Harrison announced in Jest, “Thank you so much! Thanks for coming out! We’ll see you next time!”

Donald Harrison – sax

Even before the cumulative laughter and applause had died down, the band picked up from whence they had stopped and continued with a full-blown 15 minute intense version of ‘4-String Drive’. Donald Harrison ran the first leg of this musical baton relay, weaving his snake charmer-like sax interspersing neatly throughout the piece, before going on a runaway sax solo, soaring to extreme high-pitched notes before swooping down again to the middle and lower registers.

Jerry Z – keys/organ/bass

Jerry Z on keys and Bill Summers on percussion ran a strong and steady second and third legs before handing the baton over to the seasoned campaigner on drums, Mike Clarke to bring the tune home . It was like time stood still inside the Royal Festival Hall as the drum maestro paced himself to perfection, slowly picking up the pace, before finishing with a stupendous whirlwind flourish, including a splash of cymbals and hi-hats.

Mike Clarke – drums

There was no respite for the 72 year old as Bill Summers edified him further as being a major impact player on the next tune out the gate, ‘Actual Proof’ which further etched Mike Clarke’s name into the drummers hall of fame. Herbie Hancock’s exquisite ‘Butterfly’ was the next composition to be shown some love by The Headhunters. After reminiscing on the many years he played ‘Butterfly’ alongside Herbie Hancock in the studio and on tour, Bill Summers went on to dedicate this extremely popular tune to “All the beautiful ladies in the house.”

Donald Harrison – sax
Jerry Z – keys/organ/bass

As the last strains of ‘Butterfly’ fluttered up into the ether and with both the band and the audience fully warmed up Donald Harrison enquired, “Are we moving in the right direction? I said, are we moving in the right direction?” The classic tunes kept on coming from this delightful set as the foursome dipped further into the classic Headhunters album for the rhythmic and new age sounding ‘Sly’, written by Herbie Hancock as a tribute to Sly Stone. A tune many feel holds its own alongside ‘Chameleon’ from The Headhunters’ eponymous 1973 recording.

An extended silence between songs was broken by Bill Summers evoking his ancestral past with ‘Warrior’s Suite’, the African vocal chanting soliloquy, which soon morphed into a call and response interaction with the audience. The Guru like Master percussionist then delved into his diverse box of percussive instruments, blowing through pursed lips across an empty green bottle to create a haunting flute like sound. The other band members gradually joined in as the ditty manifested into an originally and most pleasing version of ‘Watermelon Man’. This familiar and catchy tune rounded out the hour long set, which whizzed by in what seemed like a hot minute as the audience were encouraged to clap along whilst spontaneously rising to their feet. With a quick audience reminder of the limited availability of signed collectors copies of their CD, The Headhunters headed off stage to a well deserved ovation.

The Headhunters:
Bill Summers – Percussion
Mike Clark – Drums
Donald Harrison – Sax
Jerry Z – Keys/Organ

Essential Dates:
Sunday 02 December 2018 – Thekla, Bristol, UK
Monday 03 December 2018 – Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen, Leeds, UK
Tuesday 04 December 2018 – Band on the Wall, Manchester, UK
Thursday 06 December 2018 – Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff, UK

The Stanley Clarke Band

Stanley Clarke – bass

After a 15 minute interval, the concert goers settled back into their seats for Part 2 of this tantalising double bill. Our gracious and well spoken host once again took to the stage giving a brief synopsis of the next protagonist’s résumé – “So next we get to see a man who transformed the bass into a melodic and harmonic lead instrument, liberating the bass from the back to the front of the stage. Becoming the first jazz-fusion bassist to headline tours and sell out shows worldwide. He slides easily between Jazz, R&B and Rock. As a composer and orchestrator he’s scored more than 100 films and won countless gold and platinum records and multiple Grammy Awards. He says he is “most proud of the role his bands have played as a showcase for the musicianship of established and developing artists over the years”. And tonight we see him at the helm of such a band. Please welcome The Stanley Clarke Band!”

After the band strolled into view, Mr Clarke took up his position front and centre of the stage, seated comfortably on a high chair, his legs astride a highly polished and imposing upright bass. Not soon after the band piped up and commenced head-long into a spirited version of the George Duke penned ‘Brazilian Love Affair’. A slam dunk of an opener to get the audience on your side from the jump off. It was all hands to the pump as all six band members went off on a frenetic, interactive and high intensity interpretation of this timeless arrangement.

Approximately 11 mins in and we were treated to what would turn out to be the blueprint for the remainder of the gig. The first on stage back and forth supreme battle of the musicians took place between a still seated Stanley Clarke on classic upright double bass and also seated, but cross-legged on a raised platform, the impressive Master tabla player Salar Nadar from Afghanistan. What followed next was 9 minutes of musical awesomeness as the two dueled within feet of each other in a musical game of one-upmanship. The speed and dexterity of Salar Nadar’s hands was mind-boggling.

Salar Nadar – tabla

Not to be out-played, Stanley took up the gauntlet and whilst maintaining full eye contact with Salar Nadar, he proceeded to abuse the double bass (musically) in the most extreme way possible. His hands also became a blur as he slapped the strings from top to bottom in an outwardly maniacal, but wholly controlled manner. The fortunate attendees – especially those seated in the front row – could hardly contain their excitement, whooping, hollering and egging the pair on to even greater feats of outer-worldly musicianship. In a nano second the dual swapped to between Salar Nadar and the Bronx born and aptly nicknamed ‘Forever Young’ Shariq Tucker on drums – FIRE!

Shariq Tucker – drums

Shariq brought his uncompromising New York attitude to the party, mashing the skins with free abandon and at high velocity. His laid back demeanour was complimented by his laid back attire of black and red casual top and a blue baseball cap with a prominent white NY logo on the front, leaving you in no doubt where he hails from. The interaction between drums and tabla sounded phenomenal over the Royal Festival Hall top-notch audio system and specialised acoustics.

It was perfectly acceptable therefore after such an expulsion of energy by the band that Mr Clarke chose the hiatus between tunes to introduce his supercharged cohorts and confirm their credentials. Anyone not au fait with the next track on the set list, ‘Song to John Pt 1 and 2’ prior to this concert, would definitely be on a mission to seek out Stanley Clarke’s 1975 ‘Journey to Love’ LP on which it featured. Sublimeness layered upon even more sublimeness. Stanley had by this time exchanged his upright bass for the more universally recognizable ‘Alembic Signature’ bass guitar, which was a much lighter shade of brown with a black and gold embroidered shoulder strap.

Evan Garr – violin https://www.evangarrviolinist.com/

As the song progressed the trademark Stanley Clarke bass twangs became more prominent, resonating throughout the hall. But the spotlight during this tune was fully trained on the virtuoso violinist, straight outta Detroit, Evan Garr. Holding what appeared to be an ultra modern lightweight bespoke instrument, with wavy green fascia, pure white trim with a brown neck and fret board, Evan went to town. Hopping from leg to leg while occasionally grimacing with concentration as he played an elongated high-octane fiddle solo as ‘Song to John’ hit top gear.

Cameron Graves – piano/keys

‘Black Narcissus’ enabled Cameron Graves, another top-notch band leader in his own right, the chance to shine on keyboard, leading the musical narrative throughout; attacking the keyboard with such fervour, one wondered how his hands and fingers did not go into spasms. ‘Black Narcissus’ itself was injected with a fresh lease of life by the relatively young, enthusiastic and willing group of musicians Stanley Clarke has surrounded himself with.

We were then catapulted back to 1975 and the heady times of Return To Forever when Stanley played alongside his good friend Chick Corea, via the mesmerising ‘No Mystery’. The fast paced tune gave each and every band member a chance to shine. We were even treated to a traditional Konnakol scat by tabla player Salar Nadar who mimicked every tabla stroke he made with slick vocal percussion.
The fifteen minute finale began with ‘Oh Oh’ taken from ‘3’ the collaborative album between Stanley Clarke and the late George Duke. The call and response make it the perfect tune to raise an audience to its feet at the beginning (a la George Duke), or in this case at the end of a concert.

Our main protagonist signalled for The Headhunters to join him on stage before initiating the aforementioned fun times call and response of ‘Oh Oh’ with the sold out auditorium. Bill Summers joined Salar Nadar as a powerhouse percussion unit. Mike Clarke’s drum kit was set up at right angles to Shariq Tucker’s kit, The Headhunters’ Jerry Z arranged his keyboard adjacent to Stanley Clarke’s other youngblood piano/keys player Beka Gochiashvili.

With Donald Harrison partnering with Monsieur Clarke at centre stage and violinist Evan Garr free to roam, the bases were now fully loaded. The term value for money must have run through many people’s minds constantly as they watched the bass supremo work his way from left to right across the stage, stopping at each pairing to off-load some downright dirty slap bass – Fantisimo! Everybody was having so much fun I don’t think too many people noticed or even cared as the smooth transition from ‘Oh Oh’ to the final track ‘Mothership Connection’ occurred.

The Stanley Clarke Band as did The Headhunters who preceded them, left an indelible mark in the minds of the concert goers who attended this most uplifting and multi-sensory stimulating of double bills at the prestigious Royal Festival Hall, London. We had been treated to two and a half hours of full on Jazz/Jazz Fusion goodness and were still holding out for more. Truth be told, once the united super group took their final bow and plaudits for a job well done, it would be safe to say that everyone present had that warm fuzzy feeling within their core which more than helped to combat a chilly November evening as we dispersed into the night.

Michael J Edwards

Stanley Clarke Band:
Stanley Clarke – Bass
Beka Gochiashvili – Piano/Keys
Cameron Graves – Keys
Shariq Tucker – Drums
Evan Garr – Violin
Salar Nader – Tabla

Essential Album:

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