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Pop and Jazz Reviews : Jazz Explosion Bursts With Texture

August 22, 1994|ZAN STEWART

With a name like Jazz Explosion Superband, you kind of expect musicians to jump through hoops of fire to give you a thrill. But when bassist Stanley Clarke, guitarist Larry Carlton, woodwind player Najee, drummer Billy Cobham and guest keyboardist Brian Simpson held forth at the Greek Theatre on Saturday, they delivered a fairly straightforward look at contemporary jazz with scant show-boating.

Still, some of the numbers--which explored such realms as pop jazz, R&B, jazz fusion and straight-ahead--were pretty wild. Take the evening's major band showcase, a very modified version of Clarke's 1976 hit, "School Days."

The 30-minute number started with Clarke and Cobham stage front, the drummer holding a portable synthesized drum machine. The pair played a duet, Clarke feverishly slapping his bass strings as Cobham hit his machine with his hands, creating a musical hailstorm.

Later Clarke soloed, coaxing out wiry notes as glowing as a red-hot electric coil. Najee added electronic wind instrument tones that were as soft as a cat creeping across a carpet, and Carlton offered thick chunks of sound you could almost chew.

Most tunes were calmer. On the soothing "All Blues," Carlton's tones smeared like colors in a fading sunset. Cobham's "Pleasant Pheasant" found Najee playing notes on tenor sax that were like caramel candies with nuts inside--firm on the outside, hard in the center.

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