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Bassist Clarke Delivers Virtuoso Play

JAZZ REVIEW

November 22, 1997|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Twin Palms restaurant in Pasadena was overflowing with a conservative-looking dinner crowd Thursday night. White-aproned waiters moved busily through the warmly atmospheric, tent-covered room, and business-suited, evening-frocked men and women dined in quiet tranquillity.

It was not exactly the sort of environment in which one expected an explosion of funk-driven fusion music. But that's exactly what happened when Stanley Clarke and his quartet took the stage. The eclectic, multiple-talented bassist-composer moved easily from fusion to mainstream, from blinding displays of virtuosity to grooving funk-driven rhythms.

And in the process, the room was transformed. A few minutes after the start of Clarke's first piece, a gray-suited, bespectacled man converted his table into a drum set, avidly banging out rhythms with both hands. At another table, a discreet-looking couple began clapping their hands in rhythm, occasionally leaping to their feet to shout, "Yeah, go, Stanley, go!"

Clarke observed the proceedings with an occasionally quizzical eye, clearly enjoying the reaction. After a couple of contemporary numbers in which he used his electric bass as a melodic instrument, (relying on keyboard support from Nick Smith and Robert Perkins and dynamic drumming from Ike Wiley), he moved to his larger, acoustic instrument.

And it was here that he confirmed that his highly visible career as an electric bassist and film composer has in no way diminished his skills as a first-rate, straight-ahead jazz player. Playing Charles Mingus' classic "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," followed by Charlie Parker's "Confirmation," Clarke gave an impressive display of bass playing--not only in the quickness of his fingers, but in his capacity to come up with compelling improvised melodies.

Although the contemporary numbers that followed--including his 1976 piece "School Days"--tended to fall into repetitious funk patterns, his listeners loved every minute. And by the time he finished his hourlong set, the tranquil room, with its stately palm tree piercing the high, tent roof, had been converted into an energy-filled chamber of fervid, hand-clapping fans. Demanding an encore, his listeners refused to make room for the second show until Clarke came back to favor them with a few more moments of jazz and funk.

The performance not only identified the Twin Palms as an attractive jazz venue, it also underscored the fact that there is a large, supportive audience for jazz, more than willing to turn out for an appealing program of music. Clarke's program was repeated Friday night at the Twin Palms in Newport Beach. On Dec. 4 and 5, the venues will simmer with the jazz-rock of Blood, Sweat & Tears.

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