The 2012-13 Jazz SLC series will begin with the Stanley Clarke and Hiromi Acoustic Duet and end with the Monterey Jazz Band 55th Anniversary, featuring Dee Dee Bridgewater, Benny Green, Christian McBride, Louis Nash and Chris Potter.
The series opens Sept. 14 with a concert boasting several firsts. It's the first time Clarke will appear on stage in the Jazz SLC concert series. The same can be said of jazz composer and pianist Hiromi. It's also the first time the two musicians will headline the stage together.
"We couldn't be more thrilled to begin our concert series with the Stanley Clarke and Hiromi duet," said Jazz SLC founder Gordon Hanks. "These musicians are megastars, and the audience is going to be in for the concert of a lifetime."
Although Hiromi is not yet a household name in the jazz world, at 33, she has shared the stage with some of the industry's very best. Her trajectory in the jazz world, to some degree, is slightly reminiscent to that of Clarke's. Both musicians ended up on stage with Chick Corea in their formative years. The Clarke-Corea relationship essentially defined jazz/fusion with the formulation of their band Return to Forever.
At 17, Hiromi met Corea while he was playing a concert in Tokyo. The following night, she was sharing the stage with him. Sixteen years later, Hiromi has recorded seven studio albums and has moved from being Clarke's pianist to sharing the spotlight with him on stage.
Clarke built a stack of accolades before the age of 25 and has not disappointed since. I was able to see Clarke perform early in his career, and it rocked my senses. In terms of what Clarke did with the double bass and the acoustic bass, it was far beyond anything I had heard on the contemporary scene. Watching him perform reminded me of the brilliance of Jimmy Hendrix. Clarke was a kid, perhaps 21 years old at the time, and there he was jamming with Stan Getz, Tony Williams and Corea. At that concert, there was a palpable feeling that the functioning role of the bass player was about to change. Acoustical jazz was here to stay.
It was a perfect historical moment for Clarke to arrive on the jazz scene. The advent and acceptance of acoustical music began to redefine the role of the bass player. Clarke posed the musical question that seemed to challenge the conventions of the time. His infusion of funk into the mix and his ability to create a deeper role for the bassist through more complicated harmonies soon propelled him from the traditional role of a band's "timekeeper" to a headlining performer. His 1974 album, "Stanley Clarke," compressed his driving energy and sense of exploration into the music.
To understand the partnership between Clarke and Hiromi, which at first might seem like an unlikely pairing, one only need listen to two tracks on Hiromi's album "Brain." The first track on the album, "Kung-Fu Champion," reveals Hiromi's unique composition skills as she pushes the boundary of "techno synthesizing" on the keyboards. It is humorous and playful, creating images that might bring to mind some of Clarke's own earlier albums. In "Green Tea Farm," Hiromi paints a more formalized jazz landscape that takes the listener on a pastoral journey through the Japanese landscape of her own country.
Hiromi, like Clarke, pushes the parameters of the jazz form without hesitation or apology. Both musicians are pioneers at their own discipline, combining complex and sophisticated arrangements that challenge aficionados to rethink the limitless boundaries of jazz.
If you go …
What: Jazz SLC season opener featuring Stanley Clarke and Hiromi Acoustic Duet
When: Sept. 14, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South
How much: $30 ($10 for students through the Capitol Theatre)
Phone: 801-3552787 or 801-278-0235
Jeff Metcalf is a professor of English at the University of Utah and an avid jazz fan.