By Mike Greenblatt
“The Complete 1970s Epic Albums Collection”
This is a 6-CD box that, although flawed, is deeply satisfying funk-fried fusion from a bassist bubbling over with creativity, verve and the balls to transform electric bass into a melodic showstopper. Stanley Clarke’s a natural bandleader who produced, composed and organized studio and live bands around his stellar friends like keyboardist Chick Corea (with whom he co-founded Return To Forever in 1971); drummers Billy Cobham and Lenny White; and guitarists John “Mahavishnu” McLaughlin, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Ray Gomez and Jeff Beck.
More constrained when heard last year in the Grammy-winning Corea-Clarke-White acoustic reunion (Forever), here he’s younger, brasher, letting his inner rock star spill all over the place which makes for some glorious experiments yet can also lead to the path of excess. Still, numerous audiences should be able to dig this wildly eclectic electric action, as it rings loud with that ‘60s free-form aesthetic.
Clarke pops that bass with an elastic sense of time, veering off madly into reggae, sweet soul, over-the-top funk, jazz/rock fusion, electronica, rock … you name it. From his self-titled ’74 debut and the ’75 “Journey To Love” follow-up (containing his biggest hit, “Silly Putty”) to some acrobatic onstage antics that even today’s jam-band set could get behind, the 61-year-old Philadelphian has always entertained and put forth the notion that the electric bass is more than just a bottom feeder. In his hands, it’s a loud lead instrument.