Jazz In the Garden is an exciting new release from jazz bassist Stanley Clarke. Because of his strong association with jazz fusion, it must be pointed out that this is Clarke's very first acoustic jazz trio album. Backed by longtime collaborator Lenny White on drums, and the extraordinary pianist Hiromi Uehara, Clarke turns out a masterful straight-ahead jazz classic.
An wide variety of textures and moods keeps the album interesting for its duration. For pure bass virtuosity, "Bass Folk Song No. 5 & 6" is a hypnotic unaccompanied solo that demonstrates why Clarke is so revered. "Global Tweak," an improvised duet between Clarke and Hiromi, left me slack-jawed at the dazzling interplay between these two musicians. I hadn't heard Hiromi before, but I will definitely be seeking out more from this thirty-year-old dynamo. Though Clarke is nearly twice her age, with decades more experience, she more than holds her own. In fact, her solos consistently steal the show.
That's not to take anything away from Clarke, who is clearly in command throughout. His mind-boggling dexterity is fully displayed in a high energy take on Miles Davis' "Solar." Lenny White holds things down skillfully, his solo near the end of Hiromi's "Brain Training" is a particular highlight. White and Clarke's history playing together is apparent in "Take the Coltrane," a Duke Ellington number arranged as a duet between them.
At either end of the album's textural extremes are "Someday My Prince Will Come" and "Under the Bridge." The former, so well worn since Dave Brubeck introduced it as a jazz standard over a half century ago, is presented as a delicate duet between piano and bass. No flash, just quiet meditative playing by two artists who clearly respect one another. The latter, which closes the album, is a cover of the Red Hot Chili Peppers tune. In this trio's hands, it becomes a kind of acoustic fusion piece. White lays down a solid groove and the three transform the song into a relaxed, light funk jazz piece. Hiromi arranged the tune, suggesting it to Clarke and White on the basis of its strong melody.
Ultimately, Jazz In the Garden has more than enough tunefulness to hook even the least jazz-savvy listener. But for seasoned jazz fans with an appreciation of improvisation, the entire work is a feast for the ears. That's really the best of both worlds. This is one garden everyone should be able to dig.