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The standouts on this record begin with the opening track, “Pop Virgil,” which is dedicated to his Dad. Making good use of the classic Quincy Jones/Michael Jackson rhythm section (guitarist Paul Jackson, Jr., drummer John Robinson and keyboardist Greg Phillinganes) along with an A-list horn section (with an arrangement by Jerry Hey), “Pop Virgil” is pure horn-driven funk a la Earth, Wind & Fire (with fervent solo by Robinson and a tasty electric spotlight for Clarke).
The leader slides over to acoustic bass for the cinematic “Last Train To Sanity,” a tune Clarke deems one of his best. The Harlem String Quartet are at the heart of the piece, which can’t deny its rhythmic connection to Clarke’s days with Return To Forever. The driving rock groove of the title cut is provided by The Police drummer Stewart Copeland, who Clarke says was whom he had in mind when the composition was written. As one might expect, it sounds a little like The Police meet Stanley Clarke and it works perfectly, complete with guitar solo by The Eagles’ Joe Walsh.
Three of the dozen tracks on the record are solo bass pieces from Clarke’s 20-piece series called “Bass Folk Songs.” Number 13 (“Mingus”) is a 60-second acoustic piece that captures the essence of the great composer and Number 7 (“Tradition”) finds Clarke on an electric tenor bass, approaching the instrument in his signature “classical guitar” style. The last “folk song” is a pairing of two pieces, “Dance of the Giant Hummingbird” and “Eleuthera Island,” that find Clarke fluttering across the acoustic once more.
The traditional trio piece, "Trust," is a nice diversion and the closing tune written for his wife, "La Cancion De Sofia," is a gorgeous duo piece with Chick Corea, recorded live in Sapporo, Japan.
There are a few tunes that fall flat within the mix, most notably a tragic revision of Clarke’s legendary “School Days.” What made the original so remarkable -- the chunky chords, the achingly beautiful solo, Gerry Brown’s bashing drums, Raymond Gomez’s incendiary guitar -- are largely missing on this version. Though Brown reprises his role here, his playing lacks the “balls to the wall” energy of 40 years ago and Jimmy Herring, for all his talent, doesn’t come close to what Gomez did on the original. Clarke sounds fine -- his new solo is fine -- but this is a situation where this statement was better left unsaid. Likewise, the ballad “I Have Something To Tell You Tonight” is sweet enough but not bitter enough to be anything but a little cloying.
The fact that the inner sleeve shows Clarke standing on the beach, playing his bass in his bare feet, is a telling photograph. Clarke neither needs -- nor nor seems to want -- to break any more barriers, content with turning out a solid albeit a bit uninspired album created with a bunch of his friends. And so he did.
By Michael Verity