The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra – Live at MCG – MCGJ1017 ****:

This has got to be the hottest big band new release this month! The Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild is a minority-directed arts and learning center serving Pittsburgh, and has been adding some winning jazz discs to the catalog in recent years. The Clayton-Hamilton band is named for and fronted by bassist John Clayton, who direct the orchestra, reed player Jeff Clayton – who switches with ease among the various saxes and flutes, and drummer Jeff Hamilton. Together with the other band members they number 19 players. They’ve been going strong for 20 years now and regard themselves as an extended family. For example, their senior trumpet player, Snooky Young, never has to carry his own bags when the band is on tour – which they do frequently.

The arrangements are gangbusters – swinging in the best Basie style and yet fresh and up-to-date sounding.  It was the Clayton-Hamilton version of one my favorites tunes, Lullaby of the Leaves, that first caught my ear when played on the local jazz station. It begins with a great trombone solo, then a trio of piano, bass and drums becomes a sort of concertino against the concerto of the full band.  In Sonny Stitt’s Eternal Triangle all five members of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra’s sax section get their very own solos, going up in register from baritone to alto to tenor as the big finish of the number approaches.  No big band fan should be without this exemplary CD!

Tracks: Georgia, Jody Grind, Nature Boy, Lullaby of the Leaves, Silver Celebration, Captain Bill, Mood Indigo, Evidence, Like a Lover, Eternal Triangle, Squatty Roo.

– John Henry