Clayton Brothers (and friends) – The Gathering – Artist Share AS0118, 71:45 *****:
(Jeff Clayton, Alto sax and alto flute; John Clayton, bass; Terell Stafford, trumpet and flugelhorn; Gerald Clayton, piano; Obed Calvaire, drums. With special guests: Wycliffe Gordon, trombone; and Stefon Harris, vibes)
After having the privilege to see the Clayton Brothers live, two out of the last three years at the annual Newport, Oregon weekend jazz festival, it is easy to come to the conclusion that they are an exceptional jazz band, mixing jazz soul, hard bop, blues, and mainstream jazz with influences from New Orleans to the best of classic Blue Note. Made up of the brothers Clayton, John on bass and younger brother, Jeff on alto sax and flute; and combining John’s son, rising star pianist Gerald, along with superstar trumpeter Terell Stafford, and impressive drummer Obed Calvaire, the Clayton Brothers aggregation is a force to be reckoned with, and a joy to encounter. Their infectious good humor, a mix of raucous and lyrical tempos, and ace musicianship is matched by VERY few regularly touring groups. Think of Cannonball Adderley’s groups, with the drive and swing of Art Blakey’s best groups, and the ability to tackle new jazz idioms with a “Naw’lins” panache (especially with Wycliffe on board), and you begin to understand the Clayton’s powerful force.
For their second jazz community-funded release on Artists Share (since 2008’s Brother to Brother), they have gone the extra mile by enlisting two jazz legends-to be, Stefon Harris on vibes and the inimitable Wycliffe Gordon on trombone, to broaden their already wide jazz palette. As most Artists Share releases prove, the resultant package, The Gathering, is a labor of love, and covers some new ground. Minus their guests, the Clayton Brothers Quintet are already a seasoned touring band with chops to spare.
The interaction of the front line of Jeff and Terell drive the band, with young pianist, Gerald, growing in influence and contribution exponentially by the year, and Obed Calvaire, on drums, who can lay back and provide steady support or fully charged can take a lead position propels the band to new musical heights. With guests Wycliffe Gordon filling out the front line with growling power and funk, and vibist Harris, adding sheen and polish, the jazz heights that this group can scale are limitless.
On their recent CDs, the Clayton group has often tackled a theme. Gorgeous chamber jazz, their musical influences, and the influence of blues have all appeared on past efforts. For The Gathering, it is a time to celebrate the joyfulness of jazz idioms, whether it be New Orleans strut, playing some cutting edge compositions, or revisiting the elegance of gorgeous ballad themes, this CD covers it all.
John’s “Friday Struttin” opens the CD with swagger and celebration of the end of the work week possibilities. Jeff and Terell blow funky and hard to set the good times in motion. “Tsunami” take a 180-degree turn as it expresses Jeff’s reaction to catastrophic events in Japan. There is both an ominous mix of dark colors matched by a more swinging hopeful theme honoring the resilience of the Japanese survivors.
“Touch the Fog” penned by John, mixes Jeff’s airy flute with Stefon’s sparkling vibes in a introspective lovely theme. Jeff bounces back into a party mode with “This Ain’t Nothing But a Party,” as Gerald ably backs the three front line horns into an Adderley type celebration. Try keeping still for this one…
Written for Mr. Harris by John Clayton, “Stefon Fetchin’ It,” was nailed by Harris after being written in the studio and run through only one time. Stefon takes off and barely lets go with his mallet mastery, backed by Wycliffe. Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain” has a poignancy brought out by John’s exemplary bowing on bass (he has few contemporaries who can match him in this regard). Jeff blows with a bluesy heartfelt sadness and Gerald’s solo adds much to the mood.
“Coupe de Cone” written for Wycliffe, is a blues that lets Gordon show off his ‘bone talents with a mixture of lyricism, strut, and gut-bucket soul. “SomeAlways” is Gerald’s feature and he points out in the liner notes that it seemed to flow effortlessly in a single sitting. Listening to this track late at night with the lights low will best bring its appreciation.
Benny Carter’s “Souvenir” follows and its sensuousness best expresses Carter’s lifetime of ballad mastery. This one was made for Jeff Clayton’s alto and he shows why. “Blues Gathering” needs no introduction except for the fact that John probably heard the band playing this smile-inducing tune while he was composing it. It’s a kick up your heels celebration and Stafford blows it like a powerhouse, knowing he is delivering a home run.
“Simple Pleasures” lets Stefon and Gerald interact together. You’ll hear some Ellington sophistication here. The Claytons can mix party swagger with elegance from track to track like few other groups! The Gathering ends with “The Happiness of Times” on another happy note. It’s toe-tapping from the get-go.
This CD belongs in the top ten of any serious jazz collector for 2012. Adding Stefon Harris and Wycliffe Gordon to this already dream group moves it to the upper echelon of this (or any other year’s) releases. Reviewing each track individually shows its talents, and proves that there is not a track that is not topnotch…
TrackList: Friday Struttin’, Tsunami, Touch the Fog, This Ain’t Nothing but a Party, Stefon Fetchin’ It, Don’t Explain, Coupe de Cone, SomeAlways, Souvenir, Blues Gathering, Simple Pleasures, The Happiest of Times
This is a special upscale audiophile vinyl that is worth it!