Kronomyth 1.0: SON OF THE RETURN TO FOREVER. The first solo album from Stanley Clarke is an RTF record in all but name; a Light As A Feather in his cap, if you will. It’s a transitional record, featuring vocals and flute (holdovers from the last RTF album) while looking forward to the future quartet of Clarke, Chick Corea, Lenny White and electric guitar (here provided by Pat Martino). Andy Bey and Dee Dee Bridgewater create an interesting male/female dynamic in the vocals that gives Children of Forever a unique flavor among RTF-related albums that almost feels like Frank Zappa at times (“Children of Forever,” for example, always reminds me of Frank’s “Village of the Sun.”) Children of Forever is both a collaboration between Clarke and Corea and an inversion of their previous roles, with Clarke writing all but one track, lyricist Neville Potter providing the spacey/spiritual subject matter and Corea handling the arrangements to keep everything contained within the RTF universe. The one track arranged by Clarke, “Children of the Future,” begins to fall apart in the middle and suggests that Corea was the stronger arranger of the two (the rest of the album bears that out). “Unexpected Days” shows the difference in their styles, and has a much more sophisticated and languid feel with no trace of funk. Speaking of sophistication, “Butterfly Dreams,” the only track to feature Bey without Bridgewater, could have come from the smooth-as-butter Johnny Hartman himself. On those tracks and the longer “Sea Journey,” it feels as though Corea has hijacked the session, and that may be the only complaint that Clarke fans can level against the album: it’s not a true Stanley Clarke solo album in the same sense as a School Days. As a warm run for the next iteration of RTF, however, Children of Forever is a welcome find for fusion fans and one of the better examples of Corea’s music in a song-oriented form. It’s not the bass showcase I expected, except for the brilliant “Bass Folk Song” and a wild bass fiddle solo on “Sea Journey,” nor is the guitar fully integrated into their sound yet (Pat Martino’s lone solo on “Sea Journey” is more notey than notable). All in all, it’s not quite as amazing as LAAF, Hymn or the Di Meola-era discs (in my opinion), but it’s definitely in the same family.
Another bass tour de force from Stanley Clarke, this time featuring an all-star lineup that looks like a jazz readers’ poll for the year’s best artists: Jeff Beck, Chick Corea, George Duke, Steve Gadd, John McLaughlin, David Sancious, Lenny White. Journey To Love basically returns to the same approach as his last album: throw down some contagious funk, slip in a smooth-as-satin vocal song, add some old school jazz and class things up with a modern classical composition. The new wrinkle here is the addition of Duke and Beck. Clarke found a sympathetic partner in Duke, the two meshing like finely tuned and funky gears on the opening “Silly Putty” and “Hello Jeff,” the latter turbocharged with the electric guitar of Jeff Beck. David Sancious and Steve Gadd are also inspired choices, with Sancious playing lead and rhythm with equal aplomb. Maybe it was the presence of Duke, but Clarke takes on more complex arrangements on this album. “Concerto for Jazz/Rock Orchestra,” for example, features a full brass section that recalls Frank Zappa’s horny exploits (e.g., The Grand Wazoo) and stiches together several different parts with precision and skill. Compared to the concerto, the Corea-Clarke collaboration, “Song to John” (dedicated to John Coltrane), is a snooze. I get where the first part sounds like the shimmering and slowly unfolding sound of John’s later music, but the second part just sounds like Chick noodling around, and John McLaughlin’s acoustic guitar is a wet match that never lights. Still, it’s a minor complaint against a major work. Journey To Love continues to fill a special need for bass-driven jazz/rock. So few musicians were making (or were capable of making) music like this, and it’s easy to hear why many considered Clarke the instrument’s greatest champion. Together with his last and next albums, this represents a triumphant trio of jazz/rock that every bass aficionado (and plenty of pure music lovers) should own.
Kronomyth 2.0: THE LAND ACCORDING TO GuitARP. It’s 1:30 in the land of the midnight sun, and while Pontificus Maximus is off making musicmagic in some dim dungeon, Al Di Meola continues to cut through the competition with his black axe. Elegant Gypsy follows the same design as his first record and features many of the same players: Steve Gadd, Anthony Jackson, Mingo Lewis, Barry Miles, Lenny White. The new wrinkle here is the participation of Jan Hammer and the first recorded meeting of Di Meola and flamenco guitarist Paco De Lucia on “Mediterranean Sundance.” Di Meola’s second disc is also notable for the introduction of spacier sounds: synthesizers, mini-moogs and guitar effects (Anthony Jackson’s bass, for example, seems to be run through some kind of flanger). If the effect of Elegant Gypsy is slightly less impressive than Land of The Midnight Sun (and, in my opinion, it is), it’s best to remember that Di Meola’s first record was very impressive. This time around, the arrangements are a little less breathtaking, and actually seem to drag in a few spots: Jan Hammer’s tuneless mini-moog solo on the opening track is one instance, the first half of “Midnight Tango” is another. There’s still plenty to recommend this to romantic warriors, however: “Elegant Gypsy Suite,” “Race With Devil On Spanish Highway” and the second half of “Midnight Tango.” On Elegant Gypsy, the acoustic guitar may actually get the upper hand. There’s no denying that the duet between De Lucia and Di Meola is a heavenly alignment of stars, and even the brief “Lady of Rome, Sister of Brazil” stands out as perhaps the album’s best mix of melody and technique. Basically, this is Land of The Midnight Sun with less Santana worship, more synthesizers and a teaser of the guitar trio to come.
Kronomyth 8.0: V.S.O.P.P. I like RTF, so I picked up Echoes of An Era and Griffith Park Collection when they came out. Both bored the pants off me, and I ended up giving Griffith Park away. Loads of talent on these recordings (Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson on horns) but not a whole lot to say. Echoes took a gamble by letting Chaka Khan chew up eight classics. Her voice is the neodymium magnet in the room: you’re either attracted to it or freaked out that it’s in there. Personally, I’m pretty freaked out by her voice most of the time. I can listen to her without wincing, but to say that the horn solos of Henderson and Hubbard bring me relief is an understatement. Since I can only listen to people talk about jazz for about fifteen minutes before I want to tweak their little red tomahto nose, maybe I’m not the best judge of Echoes. You really need to buy into the idea that jazz is this evolving dialogue between the past and the future or something. You need to buy into the idea that Chaka Khan’s vocal interpretations make you hear classic music in a new way, and not in the way that The Chipmunks made you hear it. Whether you want to pay fifteen bucks to buy all that, that’s your decision. If you’re intrigued by jazz titans from the ‘70s playing old school jazz, I’d point you toward Herbie Hancock’s VSOP engagements instead (Freddie Hubbard was involved in both projects).