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Iconic jazz drummer Mike Clark returns to Seattle Friday

Drummer Mike Clark can swing and fill a pocket with funk.
Photo courtesy of the artist
Drummer Mike Clark can swing and fill a pocket with funk.

Drummer Mike Clark is best known for his funk chops with Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters. His talent goes beyond category, though, as heard on the new album Mike Drop with saxophonist Michael Zilber. Clark leads a band of Seattle stars at The Royal Room Friday night, with saxophonist Skerik and trumpeter Thomas Marriott, keyboardist Wayne Horvitz and bassist Geoff Harper.

Clark made an impact on his debut recording, Herbie Hancock's 1974 album Thrust. His innovative funk rhythm on "Actual Proof" is legendary, with Hancock calling it "one of the best drum solos on any of my albums."

Five years later, Clark joined the British jazz rock group Brand X, switching off with fellow drummer Phil Collins on a pair of albums. In subsequent years, Clark has led his own groups and worked with a rainbow of jazz stars: Chet Baker, Eddie Henderson, Vince Guaraldi, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Bobby McFerrin and the Gil Evans Orchestra make the list.

Mike Drop is the new album by drummer Mike Clark and saxophonist Michael Zilber
Album artwork painted by ARTIST
Mike Drop is the new album by drummer Mike Clark and saxophonist Michael Zilber

This year, Clark joined forces with Bay Area friend, saxophonist Michael Zilber. Mike Drop was recorded after a series of gigs in California in early 2018 and features the songs the two Mikes were playing in their quartet. A conversational album in the hard bop tradition. The band explore standards and songs by Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter, McCoy Tyner, and a pair by The Beatles.

It's a swinging, colorful recording that shows off Zilber's saxophone and Clark's drumming to great effect. It's not the driving funk Clark's best known for. Rather, it's (actual) proof that a great drummer can't be put in a stylistic box.

Friday's concert at The Royal Room be a mix of the two sides of Clark, Skerik told me recently.

"He’s always been a swinging autophysiopsychic drummer," he explains. "I first met Mike when I joined his Prescription Renewal Tour with Charlie Hunter, Fred Wesley, Robert Walter and DJ Logic. We’ve been playing together ever since. It’s always a blast, and he can play anything. Of course, the stories backstage are amazing and hilarious."

Listen for the Hancock cover "Chameleon" from the Prescription Renewal album Live at the Fox Theatre on The New Cool Friday night. Whether the band is acoustic or electric, the beats Mike Clark provides are just what the doctor ordered.

The New Cool airs Fridays at 9 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.

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Abe grew up in Western Washington, a 3rd generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.