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Reviewers: Don Mather, Tony Augarde, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby

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The Toys of Men

Heads Up HUCD 3128



1. The Toys of Men
2. Come On
3. Jerusalem
4. Back in the Woods
5. All Over Again
6. Hmm Hmm
7. Bad Asses
8. Game
9. La Cancion De Sofia
10. El Bajo Negro
11. Broski
12. Chataeuvallon 1972
13. Bass Folk Song No. 6.
Stanley Clarke - Electric bass, acoustic bass, spoken word, Victor Bailey model acoustic bass guitar, programming, tenor bass, prepared tuned electric bass, piccolo bass
Ruslan Sirota - Keyboards, acoustic piano, programming, Fender Rhodes
Mads Tolling - Violin
Esperanza Spalding - Vocals
Jef Lee Johnson - Guitar
Ronald Bruner Jr. - Drums
Tomer Shtein - Acoustic guitar
Michael Landau - Acoustic guitar, electric guitar
Phil Davis - Keyboards
Paulinho Da Costa - Percussion


Whatever happened to Stanley Clarke? I'm old enough to remember the impact he made when he first appeared on the jazz scene, particularly when he was a vital ingredient in Chick Corea's Return to Forever group. Yet we haven't had a solo album from him for several years and his name seems to have dropped out of view. Apparently he has been devoting much of his time to writing music for films. However, this album should put him right back in the limelight - not only as a virtuoso bassist but also as a composer.

The CD opens with the remarkable six-part title-track: a suite which expresses Clarke's attitude to war. He says: "When there are disagreements and disputes between countries, people always go back to their toys and how they can use them to intimidate their adversaries". His suite passes through episodes of violence and chaos (starting with an ominous spoken countdown from Clarke) into a saner region of peace and reconciliation.

The other tracks on the album reveal Stanley's breadth as both player and composer. Come On is very much in the jazz-rock mould of Return to Forever. The peace-and-love message continues in All Over Again, which sounds as if it might be one of Stevie Wonder's pleas for brotherly love. Bad Asses features the finger-slapping bass guitar style which Clarke pioneered, with Ronald Bruner Jr. adding muscular drums which make this track a very sophisticated version of drum 'n' bass. Chateauvallon 1972 is dedicated to drummer Tony Williams, so it naturally features some more powerful drumming from Bruner, although its repetitive riff gets rather tiresome after several minutes.

Yet the album is not all sound and fury. Jerusalem, written by keyboardist Ruslan Sirota, is a gently elegiac evocation of what the Holy City could become if people would stop quarrelling. In La Cancion de Sofia, Stanley pays tribute to his wife with heartfelt rhapsodising on bowed bass. And there are several short interludes (tracks 4, 6, 11 and 13) in which Stanley plays solos on the double bass - thankfully well-recorded so that you can hear them clearly. El Bajo Negro is more than an interlude: nearly eight minutes of highly expressive acoustic bass.

Yes, Stanley Clarke is back - not with a vengeance but with some well-varied and absorbing music.

Tony Augarde

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