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The Toys of Men

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Album Review

It's unfortunate that it took the sad state of international political affairs of the early 21st century to lure Stanley Clarke back to the intense brand of jazz bass playing he pioneered with Return to Forever in the 1970s, but that's what The Toys of Men is all about. Clarke has spent much of the last couple of decades outside of the realm of jazz, scoring films and television programs, but he has said that his disdain for the very idea of war, and specifically the constant state of war in the Middle East, inspired him to put together a fired-up band and make an antiwar statement with this album. Whether he accomplishes that goal is debatable: only one track here, "The Opening of the Gates," contains a sung vocal, by Esperanza Spalding, and the only other voice heard on the recording is the spoken word of Clarke himself. But whether or not instruments can by themselves make the point that violence and destruction do not exactly offer much hope for the future, the music created here is easily Clarke's most dynamic and potent in a long, long time. The set opens with a six-part suite that also lends its name, "The Toys of Men," to the album itself. Those toys, Clarke has said, are weapons, and he disdains mankind's insistence on using them to kill one another. But the toys of choice for this ambitious, sweeping piece of music are musical instruments, and Clarke and his troops slash and burn in a way that often recalls the early fusion of Return to Forever. Working with a core band that includes drummer Ronald Brumer, Jr., guitarists Jef Lee Johnson and Tomer Shtein, keyboardist Ruslan Sirota, and violinist Mads Tolling, Clarke uses the opening collection of connected themes to take off from an earlier song called "Toys" that he recorded with drummer (and former RTF member) Lenny White in a project they called Vertú. The titles of the second and third sections, "Fear" and "Chaos," offer the most obvious clues as to what Clarke is trying to say, although, ironically, "Chaos" is one of the calmer and more luxuriant pieces on the record — "Fear," meanwhile, lives up to its name, all blistering fusionoid jamming. Clarke takes plenty of opportunities throughout the record to exercise his trademark slapping bass chops, among them a minimal, bluesy solo on the two-minute "Hmm Hmm" and the rambling, adventurous, seven-plus-minute "El Bajo Negro." Other highlights include "Châteauvallon 1972," a steady-rolling slab o' funk dedicated to the late, great drummer Tony Williams, and "Jerusalem," an airy, swaying, acoustic-based epic whose peacefulness direct contrasts with the tension and restlessness that rock the region in which that historical city sits.

Customer Reviews

Stanley Clarke Return To Form

Innovative bassist Stanley Clarke’s much anticipated solo album is designed with the emotive aspects of war in mind. And it’s a multifaceted brew, spanning tidbits of his work with 70s Return To Forever and even a few components that might elicit notions of The Mahavishnu Orchestra. With an armada of basses on hand, Clarke takes the requisite solo spot within various areas of this disc. But the most exciting element is rooted within the driving, complex exchanges and unison choruses witnessed on the extended and multipart opener titled “The Toys Of Men.” Here, Clarke, violinist Mads Tolling and keyboardist Rusian Sirota engage in high-impact jazz-fusion phrasings amid lushly arranged interludes featuring vocalist Esperanza Spalding, performing on one part. The leader’s amazing technical acumen is conveyed throughout. In effect, it’s a divergent track mix, where ambient-electronic passages give way to super-funk grooves and somber arco-bass driven movements. It’s an acoustic-electric engagement, but Clarke and company generate some high-heat within the heavier, plugged-in passages. On “Chateauvallon 1972 (dedicated to Tony Willians),” the bassist steers a quartet framework on a song that does indeed seem reminiscent of classic Mahavishnu via a concentrated upsurge within a budding, odd-metered time signature. Here, drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. caps it all off with an electronically phased, polyrhythmic solo. Ultimately, it’s a welcome reentry for Clarke and not of the smooth or contempo-funk jazz variety, which is an art form that he’s frequently delved into during his post-Return To Forever days.

A New Masterpiece by an Old Master!

The Toys of Men represents a tremendous return to the electryfying projects that elevated Clarke to the top of the Fusion world in the late 70's. Surrounded by tremendous talent (including former Return to Forever bandmate Lenny White) Clarke creates his best work in years. Undeniably Clarkesque, tunes such as Bad A*ses, Chateauvallon 1972, Game and Jerusalem contain all of the signatures that set Stanley apart from the rest of the bass-crowd. The stunning title cut is no less than epic in its scope. I have waited for a long time for another album of this magnitude and impact from arguably the most talented bassist on the planet!

New Masterpiece from Stanley Clarke

Incredible playing, beautiful music, amazing group of performers (bad a*ses they are, lol). "Jerusalem" by Ruslan Sirota stands out big time, very fresh sound in today's jazz. Couldn't recommend this album more!


Born: June 30, 1951 in Philadelphia, PA

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

A brilliant player on both acoustic and electric basses, Stanley Clarke has spent much of his career outside of jazz, although he has the ability to play jazz with the very best. He played accordion as a youth, switching to violin and cello before settling on bass. He worked with R&B and rock bands in high school, but after moving to New York he worked with Pharoah Sanders in the early '70s. Other early gigs were with Gil Evans, Mel Lewis, Horace Silver, Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, and Art Blakey;...
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