Bass Boss

There have been plenty of bass-playing stars in pop music history -- all you have to do is think of Paul McCartney and his upside-down Hofner, Brian Wilson, Jack Bruce, John Entwhistle -- but none of them has had quite the influence on his bass-playing peers that Stanley Clarke has. For most of its history, the bass played a supporting role to other instruments. Clarke, though, was one of the first to bring the bass to the forefront of the music and, more important, to sell large numbers of CDs filled with songs built around bass solos.

After first trying the accordion, violin and cello as a kid in Philadelphia, Clarke switched to acoustic bass and began studying classical music. Following four years at the Philadelphia Academy of Music, he played in a few small rock groups before getting his first big jazz break by joining Horace Silver's band in 1970 at age 19. That led to a year-long stay with Joe Henderson, followed by stints with Pharoah Sanders, Dexter Gordon and Stan Getz, in whose band Clarke met ano-ther young up-and-comer by the name of Chick Corea.

Clarke and Corea soon formed the seminal fusion band Return to Forever; the jazz world would never be the same. Each member of Return to Forever went on to become a star in his own right, with Clarke's solo debut being 1973's Children of Forever. That led to 1974's Stanley Clarke and 1976's School Days, two of the most definitive jazz bass recordings of all time. Both releases featured Clarke's signature bass sound as the lead instrument playing jazz with rock beats and melodic pop hooks. Another bass innovator, Jaco Pastorius, appeared on the scene around this time, but while Pastorius's genius lay in his harmonic and melodic linear exploits, Clarke's approach was based mostly on expansions of the thumb thumping and slapping method of bass playing pioneered by Larry Graham and Louis Johnson. Graham and Johnson built the house of thumb-slapping bass, but it was Clarke who broke down the door and said, "It's party time!"

Clarke went on to hook up with some of the biggest names in not just jazz, but rock as well. In 1981, he had a top ten pop hit with the song "Sweet Baby," recorded with George Duke. Later, he joined the touring band of Jeff Beck; he played with Keith Richards and Ron Wood's New Barbarians; and more recently, he worked with ex-Police drummer Stewart Copeland as part of Animal Logic. But of late, most of Clarke's time has been spent as a composer of film soundtracks. He's done scores for Passenger 57, Poetic Justice, Higher Learning, The Five Heartbeats, Panther and Boyz N the Hood, among others. His latest CD, At the Movies, features the theme songs from some of these films, as well as other Clarke originals that weren't issued on the soundtrack CDs.

Although he's touring to promote the Movies CD, Clarke's live act usually draws on material from throughout his career. So audiences can expect to hear a lot more than just what they've heard in the theaters. Clarke prides himself on being an artist who never puts on a predictable show.

-- Mark Towns

Stanley Clarke performs at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 21, at Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $17 to $32. For info, call 869-TICS.

Flat Duo Jets -- Even if he didn't play so hard on-stage that his fingers bleed, even if he didn't have an encyclopedic knowledge of rockabilly and blues songs he can pull from his bag of tricks and spin into an original, even if he didn't make you dance that slam boogaloo and do the shaking shimmy, Dexter Romweber would still be worth a gawk. It takes about ten seconds watching Romweber, the front half of the Flat Duo Jets, to realize that yes, there are supernatural forces beyond our comprehension. Like the thousand primordial rockers on whose backs the house of Elvis was built, Romweber sings and plays with a passion that can't be quenched, a need that can't be satisfied. Barely harnessed by drummer Crow, Romweber loses himself in some kind of manic rock and roll dervish trance from which the rest of the universe is excluded. We're just lucky to catch a glimpse. At the Blue Iguana, 903 Richmond, at 10 p.m. Friday, May 16. With Manhole and Crawdaddy. Tickets are $4, 21 and over; $6, 18 to 21. 523-2583. (Bob Burtman)

Erasure -- British synth-pop duo Erasure is back in the saddle again with their 11th studio recording, Cowboy, and their first tour of the United States in five years. The group, responsible for the seminal dance hits "Oh L'Amour," "Chains Of Love" and "Always," now arrives as a forefather of the electronica movement. Vince Clarke, formerly of Yaz and Depeche Mode, creates swirling eddies of peppy backbeats, samples, Latin rhythms, hand claps and techno bleeps, while Andy Bell croons out ballads of undying affection in a flamboyant falsetto. They'll ride into town beating the same musical horse -- albeit a catchy one -- to rope in new fans and please the old with a Wild West-themed stage production that promises rubber cactus outfits, tin hats, wagons, tumbleweed and a saloon. At Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, The Woodlands, at 8 p.m. Friday, May 16. Tickets are $15 to $40. 629-3700. (Carrie Bell)