Stanley Clarke

Live at the Greek

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More than any other genre, jazz seems best suited for the live environment. An artist can improvise in the studio, certainly, but in concert a musician can ignore time limits and stretch creative possibilities. This is especially true of all-star collaborations; they can seem contrived or forced, but when chemistry exists between the players, the result is jazz in its purest, most exciting form. Such is the case on this disc, which features five contemporary giants: Clarke, Larry Carlton, Najee, Deron Johnson, and Billy Cobham. Seventy minutes for seven songs allows the players to interact and solo at length, stretching originals and Miles and Mingus covers to their limit. While each member is a monster improvisor, all base their musings on a definite wave of melodic brilliance. Najee is the real surprise here, as Clarke says in his liner notes. While the others are respected as top fusion cats, the saxman has always faced criticism for the commercialism of his albums; here, Najee proves he can blow with the best of them, getting the energy flowing on tracks like his own "Buenos Aires." Other highlights include the light intro "Minute By Minute," which L.C. popularized as an instrumental; Cobham's explosive "Stratus"; Carlton's simmering "Her Favorite Song"; and the final piece, an increasingly frenetic, 22-minute explosion of Clarke's classic "School Days." ~ Jonathan Widran, Rovi