Stanley Clarke is a baaaaaaaad man!
Not in a pejorative sense, of course, but in the sense that he’s able to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants on both the electric and double basses without hesitation. He just glides out on stage donning his trademark designer sunglasses and goes to work refining an already masterful technique nearly 50 years in the making. It’s almost not even fair how fluid and incensed his approach to the instrument still is, because he made his head-spinning 90-minute clinic inside The Tralf Music Hall on Friday night feel like an everyday practice session.
That’s how coolly brilliant he and his band proved to be.
It was as if Clarke assumed the role of progressive professor for whom rewriting the syllabus on day one is a requirement for continued enrollment in his class, and the trio of young prodigies surrounding him made it clear they could match his intensity note for note. He and drummer Mike Mitchell were locked into a psychological cage match throughout the evening that required each to keep testing the degree of control the other had over their respective instrument. On “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” and “ESP” especially, Mitchell was a whirling dervish whose dexterity and vigorous cymbal crashing left the awestruck crowd with a serious case of whiplash. While Clarke kept the banter to a minimum, the dry smile swathing his face on multiple occasions said everything.
Rounding out the lineup were 17-year-old pianist Beka Gochiasvili and keyboardist Cameron Graves, two incredible finds that should be the standard bearers for other musicians in their age bracket. They play with a fearless enthusiasm suggesting a musical maturity beyond their years and appear to embrace the notion of jazz being an art form in which deviating from the script is never a bad thing.
Gochiasvili laid low during the first couple songs, but, once his number was called, I knew that I was witnessing an astonishing talent people will be talking about for years to come. There’s a line from The Tragically Hip’s “Pigeon Camera” which goes, “It grew up into something we could no longer contain,” and that’s exactly how I view Gochiasvili as a burgeoning force on the scene. He was loose, focused and utterly unfazed by what could’ve been an intimidating moment given Clarke’s fabled reputation within the jazz community.
As for Graves, he’s a killer improvisational player in his own right and added another layer to material that wouldn’t have cut quite as deeply without it. All the audience could do is respond by continuously shaking their collective head to illustrate just how awestruck they were by what was occurring on stage.
I wanted to release my inner Lester Bangs and begin waxing poetic about how jazz can save the world, because the show was THAT transcendent from where I was sitting. With all due respect to Meghan Trainor, Stanley Clarke is the one who’s really “all about that bass” until someone convinces me otherwise.
Legendary British guitarist Robin Trower had the unenviable task of following Clarke’s band the next night, so here’s hoping he travelled with an entourage. I say that, because all of his horses and all of his men were going to have a difficult time putting The Tralf Music Hall’s stage back together again.