Legendary bassist Stanley Clarke considers his upcoming Mack Avenue Records release, The Stanley Clarke Band’s UP, to be the most energetic, rhythmic and upbeat album that he has ever done—and with more than 40 solo albums under his belt, that’s saying quite a lot. Clarke’s signature bass virtuosity and technical acumen is present throughout, but the enjoyment he had in making this album is also apparent. Unlike his predominantly acoustic bass work on the last few albums, UP is almost equal parts electric and acoustic bass.
After the release of Coldwater Flat five months earlier, Three Sounds pianist Gene Harris and bassist Andy Simpkins found themselves faced with yet another personnel change: Donald Bailey, who'd been with group for only two albums, left the group (after replacing founding drummer Bill Dowdy) and was replaced by Carl Burnett. The jazz-pop direction that Harris and Simpkins pursued on the fine Coldwater Flat set – where the trio fronted the Oliver Nelson band and a string section – was followed up here with composer and saxophonist Monk Higgins as arranger, conductor, and co-producer (with Dee Ervin).
Stanley Clarke's debut solo effort was issued when he was already a seasoned jazz veteran, and a member of Chick Corea's Return to Forever, which at the time of this recording also included Joe Farrell on soprano sax and flute, and the Brazilian team of vocalist Flora Purim and drummer/percussionist Airto Moreira. Produced by Corea, who plays Rhodes, clavinet, and acoustic piano on Children of Forever, the band included flutist Art Webb, then-new RtF drummer Lenny White, guitarist Pat Martino, and a vocal pairing in the inimitable Andy Bey and Dee Dee Bridgewater on three of the five cuts – Bey appears on four. Clarke plays both electric and acoustic bass on the set; and while it would be easy to simply look at this recording as an early fusion date, that would be a tragic mistake.
Playing at Maybeck Recital Hall before a small but attentive crowd seems to bring out the best in many pianists. Stanley Cowell performs a well-planned program of 14 selections on this 1990 CD. On a two-minute "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise," Cowell runs through all twelve keys. He pays tribute to the stride-piano tradition on "Stompin' at the Savoy," explores some bop, Latin-jazz (a transformed "Autumn Leaves") and post bop music, plays "Jitterbug Waltz" in the style of Art Tatum, inteprets "Stella by Starlight" in 5/4 time and performs J.J. Johnson's "Lament" with just his left hand. A very interesting recital. ~ Scott Yanow, All Music Guide