It’s been over 40 years since Return To Forever member Stanley Clarke began his solo career. One of the major gifts he gave to the world of the then still developing jazz fusion genre was how he showcased two separate styles of playing-on electric and upright bass respectively. As an electric bassist? This was a man who’d come up listening to bass player icons such as Motown’s James Jamerson and the Bay Area’s Larry Graham. So he had both a gift for melody and for the then still developing slap bass style from later in the 60’s. This quality also musically endeared him to his frequent musical partner-the late George Duke.
One thing Stanley has continually worked on throughout his career is the challenge of composition. He started out relatively weak in that area. Yet it wasn’t too long before he was competent enough to become an in demand scorer of Hollywood films. Today he is something of an honored elder who doesn’t exactly need to make music for any career reasons. But he still has so much music left in him,he keeps doing it and reaching for new ideas. With the release of the James Brown biopic ‘Get On Up’,this has been (as my blogging partner Rique might put it) The Year of JB. Even I’ve been hearing his direct influence everywhere. And it would seem Stanley Clarke is no exception.
Driven by a back-round of hand claps,the song begins with Stanley playing what a horn fanfare soon kicks into gear:essentially a very straight re-rendering of James Brown’s classic hit “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag”. Stanley of course is playing James’ vocal line on the slap bass,which is very appropriate. With the outro to the second refrain,you’ve got a wailing and funky saxophone solo blasting to life. On the bridge however,an isolated and very spirited drum solo kicks into life. After this Stanley plays a deep,even more drum-like than usual rolling electric slap bass line after which the entire band lock right into superb funky unison with Stanley.
Not only is this an amazing re-visitation of James Brown funk from Stanley Clarke,but also succeeds strongly by virtue of his band on this song. They are members of the famous Quincy Jones Westlake Studio. Guitarist Paul Jackson,keyboardist Greg Phillinganes,drummer John Robinson and horns arranged by Jerry Hey. These are the same people who spun musical gold not only for icons such as Michael Jackson,Phil Collins,Michael McDonald and Patti Austin but also for many pop/soul studio sessions during the mid/late 80’s.
These are people known for their polished studio sheen-something the eternally road bound James Brown didn’t always have the advantage to have on his original studio classics. They deliver some polish hear,but they also maintain James’ instrumental plain spoken manner while still maintaining there renowned studio professionalism. Makes one wonder what those original records with the JB’s band would’ve sounded like in such a studio setting. Also,it shows how many different venues of sound that James Brown’s sound can operate under even today. So it’s worthwhile to thank Stanley Clarke on many levels for taking James Brown’s innovations as a musical launching pad for funk futurism.