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Saturday, December 01, 2007

'Forever' Again

Ever-forthright bassist Stanley Clarke tells Downbeat magazine that a reunion of the fusion supergroup Return To Forever (which joined Clarke with piano keyboard legend Chick Corea, guitarist Al di Meola and drummer Lenny White) is all buta done deal. Clarke shared some trenchant insights about the business of music and the value of paying dues.
Clarke's latest CD is The Toys of Men

Stanley Clarke wants to end the suspense about a possible Return to Forever reunion.

"In a couple of interviews, I said that it probably would never happen," the bassist said in October. "But we're close to reuniting next year."

Just how close?

"We're going to reunite," Clarke clarified. "We're talking pretty heavy. Each day it gets closer. As of this day, it looks like we're going to do it next June, July and August."

Return to Forever fans, you can stand up and cheer. One of the great fusion groups of all time will hit the tour circuit next summer, breaking out the sound of the '70s for what will be the most anticipated jazz tour of 2008.

"Chick and I are getting together tomorrow to talk further," Clarke said, indicating that he, Chick Corea, Al Di Meola and Lenny White will focus on the group's classic repertoire. "We decided we wanted to do the old music first."

The reunion will reconvene a true band in an era that does not nurture the collective identity of a group as much as it does the status of the individual.

"Why don't we have groups like Return to Forever, Weather Report and the Modern Jazz Quartet today?" Clarke asked rhetorically. "I blame it on the lawyers, agents and managers. The business is set up for what I call the 'my guy' phenomenon. You have a lawyer who says, 'I manage Joe Blow.' For Joe Blow to play with Gene Smith, that will mean less money for his artist. If you made a list of all the jazz guys and you're sharp with music, you'd say, 'I can make this group with these guys, and these guys could be in that group.' You'd have a much better musical environment, synergy would be in full effect and the music would be better. I remember when we got record deals because of the groups in which we played.
"But you see guys come up now, and they're instant bandleaders," he continued. "Some of these guys shouldn't even be making CDs. They're not ready to be leaders of men. Just taking out a band and paying a guy $1,000 a week to play drums is not the tradition of our music. The tradition of black jazz, of instrumental music, is that you come out and pay your dues, and you learn from the guy whose name is on the billboard. When you come out of that, hopefully you have your own band."

Clarke is trying to do his part to extend that tradition with his new band, which he convened to record The Toys Of Men (Heads Up/Roxboro Entertainment). Clarke's current band of choice is either the trio with drums and keys, or the quartet with guitar. However, for The Toys Of Men, he expanded his usual configuration by adding, among others, Mads Tolling on violin, Esperanza Spalding on vocals and keyboardist Phil Davis to the core unit of Ruslan Sirota on piano and keyboards, Ronald Bruner Jr. on drums and guitarist Jef Lee Johnson. Clarke developed the music for the album with the band in mind, conjuring up a group sound.

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