Stanley Clarke Band
Catalina Bar & Grill
Better than…vacuuming Joan Rivers' carpet.
Last night, mere blocks from Academy Award street closures and packs of scantily clad women, bassist Stanley Clarke took to the Catalina Bar & Grill to kick off the first of his three night residency, backed by one of the tightest young jazz bands out there.
Stanley Clarke is a badass bass player; that's obvious. Anyone foolish enough to get within striking distance of him or his band while mid-song could probably be severely injured. So it was unfortunate that Kennard Ramsey, one of Clarke's label signings, had to warm up the crowd with a brief set.
Although Ramsey's quartet only played two tunes, they seemed very hesitant and a little under-rehearsed for the situation; a battle with the soundman didn't seem to help. Ramsey's young bass player also made the unfortunate mistake of playing a six string bass. After what Clarke was about to do with only four strings, it might be wise to consider stripping things down.
After an awkward pause between band set-ups Clarke approached the stage, looking fatherly with his tucked-in shirt and jeans. Despite the appearance and the fact that his band was half his age, Clarke didn't let anyone outshine him. He spent the entire evening on upright bass, frequently manhandling it like a pair of bongos or a flimsy ukulele.
The band opened with Chick Corea's “No Mystery.” Aside from piano, guitar and drums, there was a four-piece horn section standing in the dark on the wheelchair ramp. The entire unit blew breathlessly through the melody before making way for Charles Altura's guitar. After 1000 furiously articulated notes he made way for pianist Ruslan Sirota, who slowly built into his own category four storm. Clarke took an irrepressibly funky solo that pitted him against drummer Ronald Bruner, Jr.
For much of the night it was Bruner who stole the show. With his traffic-cone-orange drumset and dayglow drum sticks (presumably used to land planes when not on stage) Bruner launched his first solo into a barrage of 32nd note trills. It is unclear how his poor drum heads or Clarke's left ear withstood the blur of cymbals and sticks. Although Bruner plays with a smirking bombast and little interest in subtlety (even his brushes are intense) his command of the kit is undeniable and those other traits are just a matter of time.
The second tune, Joe Henderson's “Black Narcissus,” was a more subdued affair with spacious yet powerful solos from Altura, Sirota and saxophonist Doug Webb, who proved that the band could also swing. Clarke's solo displayed a well-earned maturity amid the youthful pulse, working allusions to “Summertime” and “So What?” before playing every piece of his bass but the pick-up.
The third tune, which arrived 50 minutes into the set, was a semi-calypso entitled “Song for John.” The band, shorn of its horn section, delivered fine structured solos from Sirota and Altura before Clarke engaged in a rhythmic conversation with Bruner. Both musicians goaded each other in a playful way as Sirota tried to slip a Simpsons reference amid their vamp.
The final tune brought back the horn section for a rapid-fire attack on standard rhythm changes called “Three Wrong Notes.” Clarke made the horn section earn their pay with a twisting melody line that left the audience breathless. Each musician took a chorus including trombonist Francisco Torres, trumpeter Kye Palmer and alto saxophonist Scott Mayo, before Clarke brought back the melody in attempt to kill them one more time.
Personal Bias: I once met Stanley Clarke in a room roughly the size of a bathroom, alongside 15 other people.
The Crowd: Guys with longer hair than the ladies. And lots of t-shirts.
Random Notebook Dump: The couple next to me started making out, which must have been very awkward for the third person sitting at their table.