When I first found out that Stanley Clarke would be performing for FREE in Central Park’s Summer Stage, I immediately thought two things. One, I must get into that show. Two, I knew exactly who would be my plus one.
Working for the Parks Department, our partnership with the Central Park Conservancy allows for some really nice perks regarding Summer Stage performances. So long as they are not benefits, I am able to plop onto the guest list of any show and bring a friend. The cost of these perks are priceless to me. (After this article I am moving onto the New York Philharmonic in Central Park….god, I love my job!)
Once I got on the list, I immediately invited my good friend, Nigel Hall. Nigel’s first concert as a little boy was to see Stanley Clarke with his father. My past connections to Stanley was strictly through my love for Fusion, which Nigel also shares. Tonight was a lovely extension of memories for both of us. Those kind of moments are magical and it’s lovely to build on them.
The venue was set up with chairs in the front and blocked off sections for the “VIPs.” I was rather early and I still didn’t have the ability to snag two seats. I only got one for myself and I hoped I could grab one later for Nigel. The commotion over people Bogarting the seats and saving 10 seats at a time for people who hadn’t showed up was rather annoying. If I had needed a seat immediately for a friend, I would have been in that commotion. Luckily, I was alone and accommodated haha.
I have never hidden the fact that I have a passionate connection to Fusion Jazz. I have mentioned it numerous times in past articles. Specifically, the group Return To Forever. A group that defined Fusion and showcased some of the genre’s greatest talent. Stanley Clarke is the bass player from that group. Having seen Chick Corea at the Blue Note a few weeks earlier and having Al di Meola in town a few days later, the players of Return To Forever were spread out all over Manhattan and I was soaking it all up little by little.
On this semi-humid, sunny evening in Central Park, the Stanley Clarke Trio, featuring Hiromi, melted my brains. However, not before McCoy Tyner Quarter, featuring Ravi Coltrane & Esperanza Spalding, geared us up! OH MAN!!!
The McCoy Tyner Quartet featured:
Seriously, the McCoy’s set could and SHOULD be an article all it’s own. However, I just wanted to sit back and relax for McCoy’s set. I knew I would be all over the place mentally when Stanley came on stage. So, I sat back, relaxed, didn’t take notes and just absorbed what was taking place on stage. I actually am seated directly behind the female taking the below video!
The talent that was mind-blowing and the sounds were so eclectic and wonderfully brought together. You had Afro-Cuban jazz composer and drummer Francisco Mela who was superb, locking down his drum solos each and every time and providing a wonderful session of beats for this insane jazz performance to groove too. I can’t begin to describe his energy and talent.
I had never seen Esperanza Spalding before and I just wanted to BECOME her. Commanding the center of the stage with all these great male musicians surrounding her, with this giant upright bass between her legs, biting her lower lip as she flew over the strings…IT WAS HOT!! And it was almost impossible for me to not focus on her completely. At 26 years old, her fingers move with the grace of an old soul and her sound parallels that. I mean come on…
The opening band consisted of the second son of luminaries John and Alice Coltrane on saxophone, a bass player hand-picked by President Barack Obama to play in Oslo Hall at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, a drummer hailed as “one of the most important Cuban drummers in jazz” by Jazz Times, and the bluesy stylings of McCoy Tyner. UNREAL!!!! I am almost always a hater on opening bands. But this was a real treat. This was talent opening for talent and this is the kind of music and performance I prefer to see. HOT DAMN!!!
And then, after all that energy had been put into us, preparing us for the INSANITY that was about to take place…we were put on hold. There was now a change of plans. The show had attracted such enormous response that the outside of the venue had been swarmed with people. A gentleman got on stage and said:
“I have good news and better news. ” The good news is that there are hundreds of people at the bottom of the hill who want to be part of this lovely evening of music. The better news is that we are going to stop for about 20 minutes and ask that you utilize the space around you so that we can provide entrance to more viewers.”
The venue was not even closed to being packed and I was in a chair so I wasn’t to worried. At this point, Nigel was still in transit. He had spent the day performing on free pianos all over the city. Sadly, he missed one hell of a opener but his performances were well worth his delay getting to the show and you should check it out by clicking the link above.
Nigel arrived in plenty of time for Stanley’s set. Perfect timing. Two lovely gentlemen were sitting behind us wearing their Return To Forever shirts. Nigel took their pictures on his phone! We spoke of the coming Al Di Meola show at Highline Ballroom the following night and they already had their tickets. Unfortunately, I was giving free tickets away through the Tiny Rager site but was unable to make it as I was heading to Phish that weekend.
After about half an hour delay, the stage started to buzz again and we were handed 2 1/2 hours of pure Jazz. HELLZ YEAH!!!
The Stanley Clarke Trio:
Stanley started the show off with Lopsy Lou. Hitting us right in the face with the slaps of his bass and the snare drum tapping off the beat. A great showcase of the bass and immediately I learned who the hell this Hiromi character was and what she was all about. Some could say rager and some ragers might say showboat. Personally, I just have my jaw on the ground.
The words I want to use to describe her actions are as plain as SHE FREAKS THE F#@K OUT!!! Her entire body was involved, her entire mind was probably in outer space or in the keys…inside the piano…it is clearly an out of body experience for her when she plays. There are no words strong enough to describe the insanity that is Hiromi when she plays for us. Just take a look…and this doesn’t even scratch the surface of her raging…
At only 23 year old, Ronald Bruner Jr. blows my mind. Beginning his professional career at the age of 15 at the Theolonius Monk Institute of Jazz, he has already played with huge Jazz legends. His diverse drumming styles could be heard throughout the performance.
And then you had Stanley Clarke. The man of the hour. If you closed your eyes, you felt as if you were listening to Stanley Clarke from 20 years ago. He still has it. Boy, does he still have it. With his electric bass in hand, the group performed Charles Mingus‘s jazz standard, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat. Hiromi once again let loose and RIPPED OPEN her solo with the power and ferocity of an attack dog. Check it out…
Stanley moved to the stand up has for a Return To Forever song called No Mystery. I believe this song was originally written by Chick Corea so Hiromi started off the song with her plinking keys. Initially, there was no bass. During this song, Stanley had some technical difficulties. You heard people in the audience shouting that we couldn’t hear the bass. Nigel and I picked up on it immediately and just watched Stanley handle it in his smooth nature. He sat there looking a bit frustrated but sitting calmly, smoothly, smiling at us, letting Hiromi fill in his blanks.
After some commotion on stage, Stanley throws his hands up and then we heard it. The bass was fixed and Stanley was projected out to us once again. Ronald Jr. wiped his face as Stanley thanked the Tech and proceeds to take his solo. And man did he make up for those lost minutes.
While no one else was shouting or jumping out of their chair, Nigel and I proceeded to be moved by the music numerous times bringing us out of our seats and hollering like wild kids at the stage. Sure, this was a jazz show. We were surrounded by people who would have preferred silence and a nice seated audience but that is NOT what was going to be happening with us tonight. This was powerful shit. This is the stuff that made us move and you can forget the manners and civility that is supposed to come with these shows. After the third time jumping up out of our seats Nigel shouts: “Go head Stanley.” Man, this was such a change of pace from the FUNK.
The drums held it down while mic was changed on Stanley’s bass. Hiromi continued to rage the keys. Nigel and I bickered over the antics Hiromi threw at us while playing. The way that girl raged, she would most certainly knock over that wine on the Temperpedic commercials. Nigel is from the old school of playing the keys and feel that those kind of shenanigans while playing are not necessary. On the other hand, I felt that her playing was modern, new, fresh and would entice and energize the younger parts of the crowd who might be sitting there bored because their parents drug them to this show.
The next song was fast jazz with a Broadway bounce. Our real first taste of Ruslan on his Yamaha Motif. He raged some insane fusion keyboards for a few min and Stanley cooly crushed it in the backdrop. Such an unusual sound.
Nigel loved Ruslan so much more thne Hiromi but Ruslan truly didn’t bring the heat that Hiromi did and we both verbally voiced that wish. We were both out of our seats for part of his solo while the whole placed sat quietly.
Stanley felt it and we felt it in him. So many faces while Stanley raged slap acoustic bass and then Ruslan FINALLY brought the heat but not moving even half as much as Hiromi. There was absolutely no flair with this guy but he was clearly talented and GREAT!
Stanley switched to using a bow on the bass for Paradigm Shift. A nice slow, slow start to the song. A shifty song that bounced back and forth between chaos and sanity. Pleasent vs wild. Nigel points out: “He’s had that same part in his hair for 30 yrs.” Ruslan’s legs shook so hard and Stanley plucked the bass so deep. I loved this song. Ronald was fast and chaotic.
This song made me think of lights. I imagined the lift show if there was one. Oh Stanley. As we watched him pluck those strings soooo very fast, we joked about how we bet his wife loves the way he plucks those strings. The slow inclinations were impeccable.
Set list…Lopsy Lou, Goodbye Park, No Mystery, Black Narcisuss, Good Bye Pork Pie, Paradigm Shift
The Stanley Clarke Trio performance featuring Hiromi might just have to be one of my top 5 performances of 2010. It is a style of music that resonates with me harder then Funk, harder then anything. I was watching the show with someone who I knew was appreciating every single drop of sound that was coming from the stage and I loved that. The weather had turned cool and lovely. It was just lovely. At the end of the performance Nigel and I just stared at each other and smiled. What a perfect night of music.