Friday, December 23, 2011

Mike Clark's Jazz Blueprints

This is the first of three reviews I did reviewing the initial batch of releases on the Taking House Records series, Blueprints Of Jazz. I received review copies I believe in Jazz & Blues Report, but I am unaware if this review ever ran. I will be running the other two reviews in the next several days.

A series of new releases from Talking House Records, Blueprints Of Jazz, shines the spotlight on lesser known innovators and style-setters in jazz. Series co-producer Marc Weibel noted the series “is unique in that it presents a collection of modern recordings by some of the few remaining musicians that have a true historical connection to jazz scene of teh 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. … Blueprints of jazz gives the casual jazz fan a chance to discover significant jazz artists they weren’t aware of before - artists that are peers with the jazz legends they’re already familiar with. The series first releases spotlight drummers Mike Clark and Donald Bailey along with saxophonist Billy Harper. each is handsomely packaged with digipacs that include liner booklets as well as use modern and vintage photographs, the latter using or evoking the classic work of Francis Wolff and used not only in the booklets, but the back cover and the disc labels.

Mike Clark is best known as the drummer with Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, but as displayed on his disc, Blueprints Of Jazz, Vol. 1, he can take a straight ahead groove as hard and tight as a funk number. The studio band is noteworthy including New Orleans alto saxophonist Donald Harrison; tenor saxophonist Jed Levy; young trumpet phenom Christian Scott; pianist Patrice Rushen; and bassist Christian McBride. Quite an impressive line-up who should be familiar to many from the New York scene with an impressive talent and who contributed several originals.

The overall mood is like some classic Blue Note of the late sixties, early seventies, as well as Woody Shaw and Louis Hayes highly underrated band. Levy’s hot romp, In the House, opens up this set with Rushen taking the first solo followed by Levy’s strong tenor and then Harrison's blues-toned alto leading into the leader taking a solo. The tempo slows down slightly on Levy’s Like That, on which trumpeter Scott follows Harrison with some very impressive playing before spots for Levy and Rushen. Tim Ouimette’s 10th Ave. 1957, is a moody blues-based number with an stop-time bass figure anchoring the rhythm with Scott up front again.

The piano-less Past Lives, has a Moorish tinge as well as allows Clark to display his ability to play with the tempo before he and McBride close it out as a duo. Thanks Len is a funky shuffle by Levy that again conjures up the classic hard bop recordings, whereas the Clark-Levy collaboration, Loft Funk, mixes a Crescent City tinge with some Herbie Hancock flavor, with Clark never getting out of the pocket while mixing in some funk spices to the groove, while Clark’s Conchita’s Dance, described as a Coltranesque tune, written in 5/4, suggests as much some of the Coltrane-inspired hard bop of the time from such pens as Woody Shaw, Wayne Shorter and Billy Harper, all of which displayed their own voices as does the sextet here.

The closing number, Billy Eckstine’s I Want to Talk About You, a feature for Harrison, strikes me as the one number most evocative of classic Coltrane (think After the Rain) that concludes this excellent recording.

Here is a video of Mike in performance.

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