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Sweet Surroundings by Steve Clarke

You don’t classify Sweet Surroundings as "smooth jazz," for it’s not smooth enough for that. Instead, Steve Clarke has developed his own style of electronic funk that keeps things snapping and popping and surging, as if on automatic, through the 10 tracks of his second self-produced CD. Indeed, listening to Clarke fosters a new appreciation for some of the groove that Stevie Wonder created several decades ago. Some of the tracks, like "Let’s Groove," recalls the work of Wonder’s bass guitarist, Reggie McBride, on classic recordings like "You Haven’t Done Nothing’" (but without the vocal backup of The Jackson Five).

Yet, Clarke has developed a style of his own after years of backing groups like Mary Wells, Sherry Winston and Walter Duda.... a style that involves some experimentation with time signatures, as in 7/4 on "Another Place In Time," but that maintains its appeal for a broad and energized audience. Clarke’s emphasis upon funk creating listener involvement belies the complexity of some of his work, particularly in his roles as bass guitarist, keyboardist, drummer and programmer, all wrapped up in one. But after two decades as a bass player and considering his involvement as an adjunct professor at Fairfield University, Clarke has gone beyond mere technique and gadgetry to merge all of the available elements for a total expression of overbrimming joy.

Or, in other words, Clarke has found a capacity that allows him to transmit his feelings from his soul into that of his listeners.

Clarke finds support from his friends recorded on his first CD, saxophonist Ken Gioffre and guitarist Jonathon DuBose. Gioffre is especially effective on "Eccentric Dancer," wherein, after Clarke’s extended soundscape of an introduction, the sax takes over, adding a cry and a wail above the choppiness of the 10/4 rhythm. And on "Frown," DuBose’s interjections within Clarke’s shout chorus provide a voice, relaxed and still urgent, that remains with the listener.

Yes, Sweet Surroundings shakes up the "smooth jazz" notion a little bit by making the groove paramount and by claiming the listener’s attention, rather than providing solely comfort.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Steve Clarke
  • CD Title: Sweet Surroundings
  • Genre: Soul / Funk Jazz
  • Year Released: 2002
  • Record Label: Hop-N-Bop
  • Tracks: Happy Skunk, Let’s Groove, Eccentric Dancer, Time For Love, Everyday Life, Perpetual Tickling, Frown, Sweet Surroundings, Another Place In Time, Time For Love
  • Musicians: Steve Clarke (keyboards, bass, drums, programming); Ken Gioffre (saxophone); Jonathon DuBose (guitars)
  • Rating: Three Stars
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