Albums came less frequently from Stanley Clarke in the 1990s as film scores took up more and more of his time. Not only that, the ideas and functions of film music play a large role in East River Drive, where selections come as often as not in the form of cue-like vamps, as well as two actual themes from Clarke's scores for the films Poetic Justice and Boyz N the Hood. Oddly enough, Clarke's music benefits from his film immersion, for his compositional ideas are sharper and more sophisticated here, and he applies them to a range of electric music idioms.
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. George Duke showed a great deal of promise early in his career as a jazz pianist and keyboardist, but has forsaken that form to be a pop producer.
Stanley Clarke stretches his muscles and comes up with a mostly impressive, polystylistic, star-studded double album (now on one CD) that gravitates ever closer to the R&B mainstream. Clarke's writing remains strong and his tastes remain unpredictable, veering into rock, electronic music, acoustic jazz, even reggae in tandem with British rocker Jeff Beck. Clarke's excursion into disco, "Just a Feeling," is surprisingly and infectiously successful, thanks to a good bridge and George Duke's galvanizingly funky work on the Yamaha electric grand piano (his finest moment with Clarke by far). The brief "Blues for Mingus," a wry salute from one master bassist to another (Mingus died about six months before this album's release), is a cool acoustic breather for piano trio, and the eloquent Stan Getz can be detected, though nearly buried under the garish vocals and rock-style mix, on "The Streets of Philadelphia."
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.
The occasion for this trio to work together was a 2010 concert that celebrated violinist Jean-Luc Ponty's 50th anniversary as a recording artist. Both the violinist and Stanley Clarke had collaborated before (a previous electric trio set with Al Di Meola, the Rite Of Strings was issued in 1995), but neither had collaborated with French jazz guitarist Bireli Lagrene prior to that evening. In playing for a mere 20 minutes, they created the impetus for D-Stringz – though it took two years for them to clear their schedules and get into a Brussels studio. These ten tunes are an assortment of standards and originals. The album is an acoustic, straight-ahead date that employs flawless swinging bop and post-bop, as well as 21st century takes on gypsy and soul-jazz and funk.