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Clarke thumbs a ride with a triple-pickup Alembic Signature Standard. Photo courtesy of Concord Music Group
Your 2008 album, Thunder, with Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten is quite a contrast to what you’re doing now. What was it like playing with those remarkable bassists?
You know, I’ve been playing with other bassists for a long, long time—back to New York in the early ’70s with bass choirs. I think it’s very important to play with other bass players, because it forces you to really bring your musicality up. You can’t just go in and survive with technique. When I played with Victor and Marcus, we were lucky in that we had a natural orchestration. Marcus loves to play low all the time. Victor likes to play in the middle, high … well, he’s kind of all over the bass. I was playing tenor bass and piccolo bass. I was the guy laying out the harmony or comping. If there was a melody, I would either play it or support the melody harmonically.
But it was a challenge trying to come up with music that works for three basses. I don’t think many people know this, but some promoters actually didn’t want to have us play, because they thought we would blow up their PA or that it wouldn’t sound musical—that it would be just a bunch of rumbles and that we were just taking advantage of our names. Obviously, that wasn’t the case. It was a really fun experience for me, because it forced me and Marcus and Victor to really play different. The only time we played like ourselves was when we played individual solos. Marcus did that along with a bass clarinet thing. I chose to play an acoustic bass solo, which was great, because I was in front of a lot of kids who were there because of Victor and had probably never even seen an acoustic bass. We plan to get back together again maybe at the end of next year. I told those guys that I don’t know if I’ll even be playing electric bass by then … we’ll see.
Let’s talk about gear. What electric basses are you playing?
I still play an Alembic bass. They just made a brand-new one for me. It’s absolutely the best Alembic bass I ever heard in my life. I’ve been with those guys a long time. I like playing their basses. I would never dare say that it’s the best bass in the world—I don’t believe in that kind of thinking— but this bass is good for me because I’m used to it. It’s got a good sound.
Tell us about your electric-bass amp rig.
I’ve been playing stereo bass for a long time, so I have a bi-amped system. My cabinet configuration is either two 15s on the bottom or 18s on the bottom. And I have 10s, or sometimes eight-inch speakers, to deal with the treble. Now this is something I got from Chris Squire: I split off the treble into another set of speakers—usually small guitar amps, just to give it a little edge on the stage.
Because it’s a stereo rig, not only do I have all the EQ possibilities on the bass and the amp, but I also have the ability to use phasing between the low pickup and the high pickup. Essentially, it’s like I’m running two basses at the same time. There are a lot of possibilities. And I’m using a TC Electronic G-System. I had to find something really clean because the Alembic bass isn’t naturally warm.
Clarke tracking his 2009 Jazz in the Garden album with pianist Hiromi
Uehara and drummer Lenny White. Photo courtesy of Concord Music Group