Blue notes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 August, 2009, 12:00am

It's funny how sometimes the same tune keeps cropping up in different contexts. Two weeks ago I wrote about Jake Shimabukuro playing the traditional Japanese tune Sakura Sakura and making his four-stringed ukulele sound like a 13-stringed Japanese koto. Last week I listened to Stanley Clarke doing the same thing with his upright acoustic bass.

Sakura Sakura is one of 12 tracks performed by the Stanley Clarke Trio on a new Heads Up album called Jazz in the Garden, and the trio comprises Clarke, his Return to Forever bandmate Lenny White on drums, and Japanese pianist Hiromi Uehara.

The three musicians are not an obvious combination for a straight-ahead jazz piano trio. All are associated more with fusion jazz, but all also have considerable experience playing acoustically, and it is a particular pleasure to hear Clarke and White interacting musically at a subtler level than is possible with a stage full of loud electric instruments.

Uehara plays with absolute assurance through a set which includes two of her own compositions, plus one improvised duet for which she and Clarke share the credit.

Otherwise Clarke is the principal composer, contributing three original tunes.

The trio also tackles Duke Ellington's Take the Coltrane, Joe Henderson's Isotope, and two notable tunes from the Miles Davis repertoire, Someday My Prince Will Come and Solar.

This album finds all three players at the top of their form, and offers a rare opportunity to hear Clarke in an all-acoustic context over the full length of a CD. This is a unit that's worth hearing live.

So, on the evidence of Five Peace Band Live, on Concord, is the John McLaughlin and Chick Corea fronted group, with Kenny Garrett on saxophones, Christian McBride on acoustic and electric basses, and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums.

Corea and McLaughlin first worked together on the ground-breaking Davis fusion sessions for In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, some of which also featured White, and the Davis connection is recalled with another version of Someday My Prince Will Come - also a favourite of Corea's - Jackie McClean's Dr Jackle, and a version of In a Silent Way/It's About That Time on which another veteran of those sessions, Herbie Hancock, guests. This is a fine live album.

Having listened to these components of Return to Forever in other contexts, and having also enjoyed the CD of their reunion tour, I bought the DVD of Return to Forever Returns Live at Montreux 2008, an illuminating document of the tour. The CD comprises individual concert highlights, but this records a single gig. Corea, Clarke, White and Al di Meola seem slightly less assured here than they sound on the CD performances, but the quality of the playing is not far off the level captured on the album, and the interaction between the four is fascinating.

Notable gigs locally this week include singer/record producer Hanjin Tan who appears on Thursday at 10pm at M1 Bar and Lounge in Tsim Sha Tsui singing songs from his Raw Jazz CD, and Brother Groove at the Fringe Club Studio on Saturday at 6.30pm where Cam and Jamie Douglas will be playing pop and folk-derived tunes with some jazzy touches supplied on keyboard by their pianist and composer father Jonathan Douglas, best known for his arts programmes on RTHK Radio 4.