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Stanley Clarke – School Days

August 31, 2006


I have decided that I will no longer rate albums. I find the process disrespectful and overly difficult for how little a number really means. I’m thinking I will probably just take down the ratings for all the other albums too. I could tell you that I want to give Joe Schmoe a 7.6/10 and that would be it. You’d skip the rest. If you really want to know what I think of an album, just read the damn review and be on with it. Besides, how respectful is it to give an artist a rating for something anyway? Yeah, you got a 7.6/10. Coulda done better. If I was Joe Schmo, I would give me a big beautiful FUCK YOU to keep in my pocket for a few days.

Anyway, Stanley Clarke is a very skilled jazz bassist from the ’70s who has apparently made a shitload of albums. The way I see it, the skill of a bassist is a little more apparent than that of a guitar player. Don’t get me wrong, it takes a ton more talent to play the guitar well than to play the bass well. But guitar players are out in front. Their job is to do wheelies and elaborate solos and other cool stuff. But then again, there are a lot of guitar riffs and licks that sound harder to do than they really are. With a bass player, when you hear something cool, that’s it. It IS cool. You can differentiate much better with bass players. So when I was listening to this thinking, “hmm, I wonder if this guy is actually very technically skilled with a bass…”, my question was answered pretty quickly.

Stanley Clarke achieves the goals that all bass players pursue. Technical skill and soloing ability are two of these such goals, and Mr. Clarke nails them very well. It should be noted that the man plays some mean slap all over the place. And he is very technically skilled in general, but really, what is amazing about this album is the mans all around proficiency in music theory and soloing. He mostly plays different kinds of bass guitars drifting into the piano and rhythm categories every once and a while, but his band is clearly also awesome. The Dancer is the track that really sticks out. The bass riff is constant and almost never changing. And yet a beautiful swirl of solos and rhythm is built flawlessly around it. To be honest, it reminds me of Santana in some ways, especially the solo bits that are on the very high octaves. But the wealth here is clearly spread out more. You will have solos on piccolo basses, guitars, synthesizers, and more.

What struck me first though, is Stanley Clarkes knack for expanding on simple tunes. The song School Days is a pretty specific riff that almost doesn’t seem to leave much room for expansion, but although it lasts through the entire song, it develops so much that you forget how simply the song started out. And it develops too, into a much more funky slap line with some crazy keyboards. And then he goes on with some pretty cool but admirably controlled soloing. The mood of all this music, by the way, is very laid back. You can tell it was written in the seventies. It has an immediate seventies groove to it, but a lot of that is actually due to the bass itself, which is very inately slappy and funky.
The album, even though it really only has six songs, still has some more moody pieces. Quiet Afternoon is exactly what the name implies, a mellow tune with a great hook that fits the environment for a lazy Saturday morning (which for many people probably is in the afternoon), and the tempo is pretty reserved too. It’s just right for this type of song, which heavily relies on lots of soloing, once again. And I know I said it before, but I really think I have to emphasize this. Soloing isn’t all about doing crazy wheelies and shit. This is flat out amazing soloing, and while the sound is really great, it doesn’t have to be fast. The synthesizer and bass solos here work out great while keeping slower and lazier. Desert Song is also not to be forgotten either. It is a completely accoustic and relatively eastern sounding ballad. Here he uses an accoustic bass, which works much better with the eastern style. It’s the most relaxing song on the album, and an admirable soloing venture on it’s own. The mood is not only relaxed, but contemplative and satisfied.

The album ends with a few party tunes, the first of which is a three minute quick funky tune. But the albums nearly ten minute adventure is truly the highlight of the album. Truly pulling in some orchestral sounding keyboards and some other horns maybe, this song is really the most interesting, and the perfect conclusion to the typical day in the life of a youth who just wants to have fun. And the soloing, oh holy shit the soloing… If the other songs made a point to make a little go a long way, this makes a lot go ten times farther. The man really shows his skill here, and not just in making a great progressive jazz masterwork, but also in sheer bass playing ability.

If you ever wanted cool “groovy” music from the seventies, please to god go with this. And if you want to hear some truly impressive bass playing too, or just like jazz in general, you will really want to pick this up.

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