The Clayton Brothers latest effort, November, 2012’s The Gathering, arrives via ArtistShare. The jazz ensemble’s personnel includes Jeff Clayton (alto sax and alto flute), Terrell Stafford (trumpet and flugelhorn), Gerald Clayton (piano), John Clayton (bass), and Obed Calvaire (drums). In addition to the core group, vibist Stefon Harris and trombonist Wycliffe Gordon guest on several tracks, delivering memorable musical contributions. An effort that balances progressive and classic jazz sensibilities, The Gathering is an exceptional addition to any jazz enthusiast’s collection.
“Friday Struttin’” initiates the effort in superb fashion, featuring an animated solo from guest Wycliffe Gordon. The harmonic scheme is quirky and unpredictable, which contributes to the ear-catching timbre. In addition to Gordon, Jeff Clayton, Terrell Stafford and bassist John Clayton all deliver compelling solos.
“Tsunami”, composed by saxist Jeff Clayton, is a savvy tonal representation of its title. Showcasing incredible angst created through angular lines and endorsing dissonance, “Tsunami” is nothing short of an adventurous, musical treat. Gerald Clayton delivers one of the most notable solos, highlighted by chordal improvisation and embracing the lower register of the piano. Opposing rhythms throughout the ensemble proceed the solo section continue to represent the ‘tsunami’ musically.
“Touch The Fog” contrasts the rambunctious opening cuts, adding Stefon Harris (vibes) to the mix. Terrell Stafford opts for the mellower flugelhorn while Jeff Clayton favors alto flute. The timbrel combo of vibes, alto flute, and flugelhorn is a non-standard combination, but ultimately quite lovely. “Touch The Fog” maintains consistency, only in more quieting fashion.
“This Ain’t Nothin’ But A Party” proves more exciting than its predecessor, sporting funkier and bluesier sounds. John Clayton’s active bass line leads the charge preceding the angular melodic combo of alto sax and trumpet. Jeff Clayton delivers a gritty, soulful alto saxophone solo, followed by a growling trombone feature from Wycliffe Gordon. After sound improvisations from both Stafford and Gerald Clayton, the cut ends dramatically, true to the blues idiom.
“Stefon Fetchin’ It” features Stefon Harris, as the title suggests. Gerald Clayton utilizes more of the treble (right hand) portion of the piano, complementing Stefon Harris’s mellow, quieter vibes. The pacing of the cut continues to evolve, growing in raucous, intense, and rhythmic fashion. Jazz standard “Don’t Explain” proceeds (written by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog, Jr.), featuring a sound palette including bowed bass, flurries of piano ones, and a beautiful alto sax solo, which interprets Holiday’s classic vocal melody.
“Coupe De Cone” is initiated by Wycliffe Gordon, instantly capturing one’s attention. A bluesy cut, “Coupe De Cone” contrasts ballad “Don’t Explain”. Gerald Clayton’s musicianship truly shines here, with the pianist employing all 88 keys of the instrument. On “Somealways”, he continues to showcase his pianistic talent, restlessly exploring harmonically and presenting a plethora of musical ideas. Overall, the piano-feature (which he penned), is abstract and mysterious.
“Souvenir”, a Benny Carter standard, gives Jeff Clayton a shining moment. Jeff’s saxophone playing is simply stunning here. Nuanced, characterized by note colorations and articulations, Clayton’s performance yields the complete package. “Blues Gathering” accelerates the tempo once more, delving into a progression based on F blues. Terrell Stafford shows off his upper trumpet register during his solo while Jeff Clayton focuses on the lower register of his alto sax. Wycliffe Gordon utilizes plunger mute, providing yet another notable timbrel contrast.
“Simple Pleasures” opens with vibes (Harris) and piano. A relaxed ballad, John Clayton is selective and thoughtful in regards to his accompanying bass tones, choosing to truly accent certain notes. The horn orchestration is superb, adding to the abstract scheme of the penultimate cut. “The Happiest of Times”, penned by Jeff Clayton, closes predictably quick, allowing Stafford, Gerald, Jeff, Stefon, and Wycliffe Gordon to ‘show off’. Wycliffe Gordon takes supreme honors, beginning his solo squealing on a high note.
Overall, The Gathering is quite a captivating ‘gathering’ of musicianship. Equally cerebral and enjoyable, the Clayton Brothers deliver a superb jazz album. There are no misses, with every consecutive track delivering quality. The originals are strong while the covers are well interpreted. It is albums like The Gathering that keep jazz alive and well.