"Miles Davis told me once that it takes a lot of courage to be different," says Clarke, who will play double bass in the acoustic group. "Heads will turn but our fans are so sophisticated and flexible given all we’ve done as individuals that I’m sure they’ll love it. We’re gonna kick butt."
Adds Ponty, "The stimulation of performing with such top musicians is fantastic. Within a couple of minutes of playing together, the music just took off."
Fleck calls the unusual instrumental lineup "an unholy alliance. I’ve never seen it except in combination with a guitar or mandolin. This is cool stuff."
Featuring songs written specifically for the triumvirate by each of the members plus rearrangements of past material, with room to improvise and for each to solo, Trio! brings together three bold and adventurous musical heroes.
Clarke gained mainstream fame in the pioneering jazz fusion group Return To Forever with Chick Corea, Lenny White and Al DiMeola. As a solo artist he became the first bassist to headline major tours, selling out shows worldwide. Undoubtedly the most influential bassist in history, Clarke recorded what is now considered the must-know bass anthem, "School Days," and accomplished and aspiring bassists continue to imitate his percussive slap funk technique. Rolling Stone’s first Jazzman of the Year, he won Playboy’s Music Award for Best Bassist 10 straight years.
Fleck reinvented the image and sound of the banjo in a remarkable career that has taken him all over the musical map, from progressive bluegrass band New Grass Revival to Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and its "blu-bop" (a mix of jazz and bluegrass). His most recent pair of Grammys (of a total of nine) was in classical music for Perpetual Motion, a collaboration that evolved into a banjo/bass duo. With more than 20 nominations, Fleck holds the record for most nominations in more genres than anyone in Grammy history.
Ponty is widely regarded as the father of modern jazz violin. With be-bop era phrasings and a punchy style influenced more by horn players than by anything previously heard on violin, his debut American appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival signaled a revolution. Since then, he has recorded and toured with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention as well as John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra and collaborated with Chick Corea, George Benson and George Duke among others. A dozen consecutive solo albums reached the Billboard Jazz Top 5, establishing him as a leader in the jazz-rock movement.
In 1995, Ponty joined Clarke and guitarist DiMeola to record the acoustic album The Rite Of Strings. The all-stars then undertook a much-praised world tour (an opening act was Bela Fleck and the Flecktones). But following a 2004 Clarke-Ponty-DiMeola reunion that toured the U.S. and Canada, the bassist and violinist found themselves guitar-less. Clarke remembered playing with Fleck at a 2002 Los Angeles concert for Clarke’s scholarship fund, after which he had said, "We have to do something together someday."
That day arrived in March 2005 when Clarke and Ponty gathered at Fleck’s Nashville home for two weeks of rehearsal. "It was like being asked to join a club you always wanted to be in," says Fleck, noting that he owns every Ponty album and the New Grass Revival used to cover his "New Country."
As for Clarke, Fleck says watching Return To Forever from the front row of New York’s Beacon Theater in the mid-‘70s changed his life. "It was a revelation. I discovered what I needed to do to be the musician I wanted to be. I’m pretty jaded after doing so many things but I still can’t believe I’m playing with Stanley and Jean-Luc."
Among the tour dates for Trio! are bluegrass festivals as well as jazz-oriented venues. Fans of one genre who are unfamiliar with the other, fans old and new, will truly hear a brand new groove with Trio!