January 21, 2020
Saturday at The Broad Stage, virtuoso bass player Stanley Clarke, his jazz band, and the four guest members of the Lyris Quartet offered a high-voltage performance that was so diverse and international in its influences that it felt like all musical roads lead to Santa Monica.
There was cool jazz, straight-ahead jazz, and the thumping electric bass pulsations of Clarke’s signature hard-driving funk. There were virtuoso solos and duets that took off on flights of improvisation. There was music influenced by the rhythmic sway of Brazil and Argentina. There were intricate string harmonies from the members of Lyris that rarely find their way into a jazz concert. The group was even given their own solo — a cranked-up-to-11 rendition of the final movement of Maurice Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major. Ravel meets Spinal Tap!
There were classics by Charles Mingus and Chick Corea. But from the moment Clarke ambled on stage, strapped on his electric bass, and began an introductory improvisation with Afghan tabla master, Salar Nader, it was clear that Clarke and his band were intent on expanding the rhythmic possibilities of jazz.
This was not a case of introducing a non-Western instrument simply to add a dash of exotic color. This was an attempt to embrace an entirely non-Western rhythmic vocabulary, much the way Steve Reich drew inspiration from the cyclical patterns of African drumming. It made for some damned exciting exchanges as Nadar interacted with the other players, at times adding traditional Indian bols (mnemonic rhythm vocals) to indicate intricate divisions of the rhythmic patterns. There were duet sections for bass and tabla, standard drum set and tabla, keyboards and tabla, even a back and forth for the two keyboards based on the same idea.
Led by Clarke’s virtuoso styling and techniques on electric and acoustic bass, the players included a hot young drummer from Chicago, Jeremiah Collier, and the dynamic keyboard/piano artists Cameron Graves from L.A. and Beka Gochiahvill from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. The band was joined by the members of the Lyris Quartet: Alyssa Park and Shalini Vijayan (violins), Luke Mauer (viola), and Timothy Loo (cello).
The concert opened with a winding road interpretation of Charlie Mingus’s “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” Then it only took a few high-volume funkadelic notes from Clarke for the audience to recognize the title track from his fourth solo album, School Days.
Charlie Mingus may have taken the stand-up bass into the realm of a driving solo instrument, but Stanley Clarke has significantly upped the ante, particularly on the electrified incarnation of the instrument. He accomplishes this with an amazing array of fingering techniques: machine-gun plucks, whirring strums, and the type of solo flights that would usually be the province of lead guitar à la Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton.
The mood turned softer and romantic when Clarke introduced “Brazilian Love Affair” and “La Canción de Sophia,” the latter a song he composed when he was in his 20s and has continued to program ever since, its gentle melody hinting at the music of Astor Piazzolla. It also was chromatically enhanced by the addition of the Lyris Quartet, a musical dynamic Clarke has been developing since his work with the Harlem String Quartet in 2012 at the Montreal Jazz Festival.
For followers of the classical-music scene in L.A., particularly the Jacaranda music series, the members of Lyris are old friends. But for the jazz audience at The Broad Stage, their highly skilled playing (including that ramped-up Ravel solo) may have come as a surprise. But what was most impressive was the quartet’s ability (on what must have been limited rehearsal time) to so fluidly meld with the band on numbers like Clarke’s locomotive “Last Train to Sanity” and Chick Corea’s “No Mystery.” And they weren’t just providing string ensemble wallpaper: They were all in.
With its international range of musical influences and top-flight virtuoso playing, this was a jazz concert that really pushed the envelope. And the audience got it.