Stanley Clarke & George Duke 6.20.12
Words by Ben Solis
Photos By Greg Molitor (ReMIND Photography)
While stopping in Detroit's Chene Park in support of their "Bring It On" tour, jazz legends Stanley Clarke and George Duke did in fact exactly the opposite. Set along the backdrop of the Detroit riverfront, the two men known for their furious chops and fusion heavy compositions kept it surprisingly low-key last Wednesday, playing only a handful of spacey tracks and reserving themselves to smooth R&B. It was shocking, to say the least, for many concert goers expecting a cosmic ride of powerful rock mixed with the type of soul and concentrated meta-fusion that Duke and Clarke have been patronizing for decades.
At first we were easily fooled. The opening of their set hit hard with blasting synths and jammy fervor. People were electrified by the first two songs and craved more, especially from Duke, who acted as band leader for the evening. Yes, Duke showed his mastery of composition and execution of solos, and yes, Clarke did throw in his flashy full-hand slap techniques while playing upright bass, but everything from that point on fizzled out into a drivel of baby making music that was both cliched and comical at the same time.
A few of my friends used the term "rainbow lights" to describe not only the goofy stage lighting but the soft nature of the whole performance. It was in bad taste for those looking to catch another classic mash-up in the vein of Chick Corea meeting minds with Bela Fleck, or even Clarke's own adventures with Victor Wooten or Marcus Miller (or both). But that's what should be expected from a venue that is promoted by Detroit's smooth jazz FM station, MIX 92.3. And no one saw it coming.
The way the bill was slated, the promoters gave the impression that both men would come out with their respective bands and then maybe play together. That seemed inevitable if it was the case. There was no ampersand between Clarke and Duke's names, so how would we know otherwise? What we got was absolutely disappointing, and at moments the opening act, Detroit soul group The David Miles Band, brought more charisma and energy that the duo did for the rest of the evening.
When I spoke with Duke after the show, he said that all they had was 70 mins to do their thing, and that they even went over. Then why schedule an opener at all? Why not give the people the spectacle they came to see: a powerhouse keyboardist and singer who has played with everyone from Cannonball Adderley to Frank Zappa, and a bassist who revolutionized what bass could be in both the arenas of jazz and rock combined. However mundane and frankly boring their short set was, there were some highlights. One in particular being a fine showing of Clarke's "School Days," which contains an obligatory jam as is. Not only did "School Days" bring it back for a short moment, it made the rest of the set look like a glorified animated radio program, playing only just the crucial bits and pieces of songs.
I have been able to catch Clarke at least four times now, and had not once seen Duke do his thing live. Maybe next time, I actually will get the chance to do so. As far as I'm concerned, I was listening to a selected mix on a burned CD. Hopefully next time, the two will play to their strengths and give the audience the show they came to see.
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