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Published: 2012/05/16
by Ron Hart

Stanley Clarke
The Complete 1970s Epic Albums Collection

Stanley Clarke – The Complete 1970s Epic Albums Collection (Epic-Legacy)

George Duke Band – The Complete 1970s Epic Album Collection (Epic-Legacy)

Whether you consider it the scourge or the savior of the art form, you cannot deny the impact of fusion on the evolution of jazz in the 1970s. And there aren’t two bigger acts from its most decadent era than Stanley Clarke and George Duke, both of whom are the most recent subjects of Sony Legacy’s successful Complete Albums Collections box set campaign.

As the bassist and most consistent member of Chick Corea’s New York City based supergroup Return to Forever, Clarke played a monumental role in bringing together the technicality of jazz and the power of progressive rock. As a solo act, he continued to bring the genre into new dimensions of elasticity throughout the Me Decade across four studio LPs and a pair of live double albums for the CBS/Epic jazz-centric subsidiary Nemperor Records. For serious bass heads, Clarke’s quickness and precision on the four-string is second only to Jaco Pastorious. And while sitting through his entire Epic output might be an activity strictly relegated to only the most monkish disciple of the electric bass, interspersed throughout the masturbatory showmanship exists excursions of pure excellence that any red-blooded music fan can enjoy, be it the nasty funk grooves of material like “Vulcan Princess” from his eponymous 1974 debut and “Silly Putty” from 1975’s Journey to Love, his genius head cutting sessions with Jeff Beck on Journey’s other impact track “Hello Jeff” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll Jelly” from 1978’s Modern Man with Vanilla Fudge’s Carmine Appice on drums, pretty much the entirety of his outstanding 1976 crate classic School Days and the slinky Jamaican soul bop of his 1979 live effort I Wanna Play For You.

But where Clarke saw his solo work for CBS as a fresher extension of the ground he broke as a member of Return to Forever, George Duke, who has collaborated with the bassist on a number of occasions—including the aforementioned I Wanna Play For You —saw the move to Epic proper as the quintessential vehicle to help skyrocket this one-time key member of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention to the top of the mainstream pop charts. The keyboard great’s seismic shift from the funky abstract weirdness of his early 70s work on such stoney classics as Freedom Flight by Shuggie Otis, Nat Adderley’s Soul Zodiac, Flora Purim’s Butterfly Dreams and Zappa’s Over-Nite Sensation to the crossover R&B and disco gloss of his new labelmates Earth Wind & Fire and The Jacksons was largely seen as pure heresy by jazz critics at the time. But over a generation later, such instances of commercial-baiting maximalism as 1977’s From Me to You, Reach For It and Don’t Let Go (which featured appearances from legendary jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, a clandestine Bootsy Collins on bass and a young pre-Prince Sheila E. on percussion) from 1978 and the Duke’s trio of 1979 masterworks in A Brazilian Love Affair, Follow The Rainbow and Master of the Game are as vital to the bedrock of modern day urban music as James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic, as everyone from Madlib to Scarface to MF Doom to Kanye West to Thundercat have blessed their material with the Dukey Stick.

There’s no word at press time on whether Legacy will be commemorating the collaborative Clarke/Duke Project, who released three titles for CBS between 1981 and 1990. And given the pure corn factor of the pair’s trio of stabs at 80s urban radio excess, perhaps we are better off letting them wallow in archival purgatory. But any fan of either or both of these massive figures in contemporary jazz would be wise to upgrade the sections reserved for Stanley Clarke and George Duke in their music libraries with this handsome pair of quality box sets.

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