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REVIEW: Stanley Clarke’s Band of Virtuosos (Dakota Jazz Club)

A promotional photo of master musician Stanley Clarke. Photo by Raj Naik.

Stanley Clarke gave a masterful and energetic performance at The Dakota Jazz Club last night. Clarke, who returns to the downtown Minneapolis location tonight for two additional performance, has been an important figure in contemporary music for 45 years. The performer, composer, arranger, and producer has won four Grammy Awards and been nominated for an Emmy, and remains one of the most influential players of the acoustic and electric bass.

For some, Clarke’s work is epitomized by his great 1976 album, School Days, which showed the viability of the electric bass as a lead instrument – just listen to the lead track from that album, played by Clarke and George Duke on the Old Grey Whistle Test show). For others, what defines Clarke is his work with pianist Chick Corea and others in the early and influential jazz fusion group Return to Forever, a band that formed in the 1970s and continues to play today after several successful reunions). Still others may know Clarke only from the 1981 hit with George Duke “Sweet Baby“. Clark’s most album recent release was 2018’s The Message, which ranged widely – from the narrative of a space alien invasion (Combat Continuum) to Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1, played straight.

Stanley Clarke. Photo by Raj Naik.

What the audience got last night was not the early Clarke characterized by blazing away on electric bass, but the wise bandleader of more recent years. He set the tone from the middle of the stage, playing on an upright bass. In a recent and reflective interview, Clarke declared that what keeps the music vibrant is developing young musicians, just as the greats in his field (e.g., Horace Silver, Art Blakey, and Dexter Gordon) had helped him to develop.

Stanley Clarke in performance. Photo courtesy of George Madrid.
This view is evident in the band with which Clarke is touring, a group of fairly young but extremely able musicians: Beka Gochiashivili on piano, Cameron Graves on keyboard, Evan Garr on violin, Salar Nader on tabla, and Shariq Tucker on drums. In Friday’s concert, each was given considerable time to display their virtuosity. All were great, with Garr perhaps the special favorite of the audience. Songs performed included versions of Joe Henderson’s “Black Narcissus” and John Coltrane’s “Crescent” (a song covered by Return to Forever on its album Forever).

Though Clarke is now in his late 60s, he still plays with great energy and authority – using the upright in turns like a cello, an electric bass, or a percussion instrument – one can get a sense of the range of styles from just two videos. He is a master, sharing his art both with his fans and with the next generation of musicians.

See him if you can; he has two more shows this evening at 7 pm and 9 pm.

Stanley Clarke returns to the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis, MN at 7 PM and 9 PM tonight.

Brian Bix