Tuesday, May 10, 2011

ON HIS WAY

Gerald Clayton will be a great jazz pianist someday. Right now, Clayton sounds a lot like his idol  pianist  Brad Mehldau. Which is fine because many great jazz musicians went through an imitative phase before discovering their own thing. Clayton isn't an exception. DD Jackson imitated his idol Don Pullen. Jason Moran imitated Jaki Byard. At some point, Clayton’s dad, jazz bassist John Clayton, imitated the great Ray Brown.

Gerald Clayton is an awesome pianist. Jazz writers have had their eyes on Clayton for sometime now. And for good reason. Clayton's first album “Two-Shade” was nominated for a Grammy. And he’s worked for some important jazz musicians Lewis Nash, Diana Krall, and Roy Hargrove. Clayton star rose playing in Roy Hargrove’s band from 2006-2008 before Clayton formed his own trio..

I caught Clayton live three times. The first time, at the 2008 Detroit International Jazz Festival with Hargrove’s band. Then, a year later, I caught Clayton's solo set at the Detroit Groove Society’s home concert series. The next time, I heard Clayton bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Justin Brown at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. The club was noisy, which it usually is, but Clayton stayed composed. 

Clayton was terrific in each situation. Clayton was tasteful. Not the sort of jazz piano player who strikes the piano keys as if trying to release bottled up hostility. I did notice, however, an inhibition. Clayton has an “inner swinger” begging to be set free. Occasionally, Clayton has let his "inner swinger" loose. Clayton did so on the Clayton Brother’s albums “Brother to Brother” and “Same Song and Dance”. Clayton’s new album “Bond the Paris Sessions,” which Decca/Emarcy made available today, frees up his "inner swinger" more than he ever has on a recording.

“Bond the Paris Sessions” is an earnest jazz trio album with 15 songs. Most of them Clayton wrote. That’s a lot of material. But Clayton’s trio Joe Sanders and Justin Brown know how to captivate listeners. Obviously, they entered the studio with a bulletproof game plan.“Bond the Paris Sessions” starts with a restyling of “If I Were a Bell”. Clayton’s arrangement opens up space for plenty risk taking, which the trio is prepared for. Clayton came up with lovely melodies for “Major Hope,” ”Sun Glimpse” and “Round Come Round.

A few things on “Bond the Paris Sessions” irks me. The sound effects Clayton uses on “Bond: The Release” gives the song a spooky feeling. I don’t get the purpose of the human voice sound effects near the end of “Bootleg Bruise”. The sound effects are unnecessary. 

“Bond the Paris Sessions” isn’t Clayton’s breakthrough album. The one that will finally solidify Clayton as a household name like his idol Brad Mehldau. “Bond the Paris Sessions” is an indication Clayton is on course for greatness.
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