INTERVIEW- How low? Getting deep with Stanley Clarke

Perhaps after only Jaco and Mingus, Stanley Clarke is one of the most intriguing jazz bassists in the idiom's relatively short history. He moved to New York in his early twenties and quickly fell in with a "who's who" of jazz legends-to-be, eventually turning himself into one of the anchors of fusion supergroup Return To Forever.

But this week he visits the Paramount as part of a somewhat different trio of bassists– for starters, this time, these dudes are still alive. Fellow jazz bassist Marcus Miller and flashy Flecktones virtuoso Victor Wooten round out the S.M.V. trio, an alpha-male bass trifecta that promises to shake the fillings from your teeth and drop your jaw, not necessarily in that order.

The Hook: This project puts the bass in the spotlight, which is not its usual role.

Stanley Clarke: The bass, traditionally, is an instrument that pretty much plays a supportive role, whether you're in a rock band or an orchestra; the bass parts just shadow the cello parts. But the players, in many cases, are guys with abilities that go well beyond what's required.

That's kind of what happened in my case. I started thinking, 'Why not write a melody that the bass plays?' and I did it, and because it hadn't been done before, it was very fresh. We tend to gravitate to things that haven't been done before, particularly if it's good. It happens in art, music, literature, etc. 

That's why I said that if it wasn't me, it was eventually going to happen, because things do move forward on this planet, especially in art. This is something that happened many years ago. The bass is pretty well liberated, for lack of a better word. It was something that was probaby going to happen anyway– I just happened to be there at the moment with the desire to do it.

The Hook: Balancing the frequency ranges is probably the most important part of arranging, and you've said in the past, "When you get 10 bass players playing at the same time, that is some ugly, ugly, ugly stuff, man." How does that work with this group, which has three bassists?

Stanley Clarke: Well, if you have 10 people doing anything, unless you have some very old, seriously agreed upon rules, like a football team, you could have chaos. These bass players– Victor and Marcus– are serious composers. Each guy knew what had to happen for this to be successful. The first thing is we had to be able to think and produce our music from an orchestrational point of view. 

Obviously, if you have three bass players and everybody's playing a low F all the time, it's going to be ugly. I'm actually pretty impressed– the record came out a lot better than I expected.

The Hook: How much of that had to do with this particular group? Could you have done it with two other guys?

Stanley Clarke: I'd like to think we'll have the most successful outing– ha ha!– but maybe there will be some younger guys who see this record.

The Hook: Is there ever any competition within the trio?

Stanley Clarke: No. There are three generations here. There's a piece of me in both of those guys. They have tremendous respect; they sometimes treat me like I'm an old man. I sometimes wish we were the same age– then maybe you'd have those kind of dynamics. But that never happened and never could happen. When you have musicians who are generations apart, there's that respect thing and all this admiration, particulary if the guy is good. 

And I have a lot of respect for those guys, too. I've never been the sort of bass player who has a sports mentality when it comes to the bass. Many people say I play flamboyantly, but other bass players are my favorite musicians. If I had my way, I'd play only with other bass players. But the audience would have to bring some serious earplugs, and it might not be their cup of tea.

Stanley Clarke performs at the Paramount on 8/17 as part of the SMV bass trio. Bring your earplugs– this could get ugly.