Stanley Clarke pays tribute to pioneering fusion bands

Nearly 40 years after forming the pioneering fusion act Return to Forever, Stanley Clarke and Chick Corea remain good friends—and sometimes friendly rivals, most recently for the sonic favours of the young Japanese pianist Hiromi Uehara. Corea wooed her first, recording the live Duet in 2008. But it didn’t take long for his bass-playing counterpart to add Uehara, whose own band was a surprise hit at the 2009 edition of the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival, to his long list of musical partners.

“Chick turned me on to Hiromi, although I’d met her in London many, many years ago,” Clarke explains, on the line from his L.A. home. “I knew she was a very good pianist. But then Chick told me about her, and a few other people mentioned her, and I thought I should make a trio record [2009’s Jazz in the Garden] with her. She’s really got a lot of facility on the piano, so I got [drummer] Lenny White to play with us, and we really had a good time.”

Such a good time, in fact, that Uehara returns on the bassist’s new quartet disc, The Stanley Clarke Band, and will appear with him at his upcoming jazz-festival show. Chances are Corea’s not overly jealous, although there is one track on the new disc that, according to his old bandmate, might cause him a little concern.

The curiously titled “Larry Has Traveled 11 Miles and Waited a Lifetime for the Return of Vishnu’s Report” pays stylistic homage to the electric-jazz sound Clarke helped pioneer, and it seems that the bassist has a healthy—and modest—sense of his place in that music’s pantheon.

“If you study the title, it has little fragments of the names of five or six really influential jazz-rock fusion bands, like Larry Coryell’s Eleventh House, Miles Davis of course, Mahavishnu Orchestra, the Tony Williams Lifetime, Return to Forever, and Weather Report,” he explains. “And that tune, if you listen to it really carefully, you’ll hear elements of all those bands—although to me it sounds more like Weather Report than anybody.

“Even though I was in Return to Forever, and I love Mahavishnu Orchestra and Miles and all that stuff, to me the most creative out of all those bands was Weather Report,” he adds. “Don’t tell Chick I said that!”

Really? Corea wouldn’t be bothered by this well-deserved nod to the late Joe Zawinul, would he?

“Ah,” says Clarke, laughing, “you don’t know Chick like I know him!”

The Stanley Clarke Band plays the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts next Thursday (July 1).