Gerald Clayton: Life Forum

Clayton's progressive musical ideas and exceptional musicianship propel Life Forum.

Gerald Clayton

Life Forum

Label: Concord Jazz
US Release Date: 2013-04-02
UK Release Date: 2013-05-27

Relentless creativity and individual expression are two distinct qualities that fuel Gerald Clayton both in life and as a musician. Unsatisfied to be pigeonholed into a specific musical direction, the gifted pianist is driven by his willingness to collaborate interactively with a variety of musicians. Life Forum is the product of Clayton’s musical restlessness. Filled with ear-catching harmonic schemes, clever orchestrations, and cerebral improvisations, Life Forum feels unconstrained. Thrown in a brilliant ‘cast of characters’, and Clayton’s third effort is stunning.

“A Life Forum” establishes a mysterious tone, prefacing the eclectic nature overall effort. Poet Carl Hancock Rux recites reflectively atop a backdrop of rich jazz harmonies, performed by a arrangement of trumpet, saxophone, and neutral non-syllabic vocals, alongside rhythm section. “Future Reflection” expands upon the opening statement, accelerating the tempo as well as increasing the ambition. The piano states riffs initially, later carried by a saxophone-trumpet melodic combination. The lines are angular and quirky, embodying the title’s realization of the ‘future’. Clayton’s soloing provides another savvy push, delivering melodic right hand improvisations and reinforcing harmonic punches in the left.

“Shadamanthem” shines, with Justin Brown making drumming transcend its basic function of ‘time keeping’. Throughout, the horns exhibit exceptional restraint, giving the track a ‘cool energy’. Besides Clayton’s incredible knack for soundly-paced improvisations as a soloist, Ambrose Akinmusire flaunts his exceptional trumpet chops. A dramatic close finds Clayton adorning with magnificent, agile right-hand piano runs. On “Sir Third”, a selection driven by rhythm, the horns disappear bringing the trio to the forefront. Each member balances self-expression musically while managing to unite successfully as ‘one’. Keeping in step with constant contrasts, the refined “Deep Dry Ocean” finds Gretchen Parlato blending her flexible pipes splendidly with piano on the melody. With a light Latin groove about it, Brown enforces a consistent groove.

“Dusk Baby” trades Parlato for Sachal Vasandani, who delivers incredible subtle, relaxed vocals. Though it begins as a piano/voice collaboration, bass and drums eventually enter in, as does saxophone soloist Dayna Stephens. Clayton expands his scope, adding bluesy pianistic ideas upon the entrance of his colleague. Even with the extra oomph infused, “Dusk Baby” ends as it began, with Clayton ultimately issuing the final statement. A differing collaborative statement is born on “Mao Nas Massa”, where Brown and Clayton make musical magic. Clayton’s pianistic ideas seem to draw inspiration from a rhythm guitar, as well as other instruments as he makes the piano sound quite multidimensional. Brown keeps a steady groove for Clayton to build upon.

“Prelude” foreshadows “Some Always”, introducing the audience to a recurring harmonic progression receiving several timbrel treatments. The crowning achievement arrives courtesy of the rare scored unison solo, between Akinmusire and Clayton, something the pianist called “...a new approach for me”. “Some Always” ends up being the effort’s most elite showing, with none of the remaining cuts superseding it. “Like Water” continues experimenting with unlikely timbrel combinations, while “Unhidden” shows Clayton’s affinity for experimental harmonies, opening with a pianistic ‘salvo’. Although things settle down, things grow more dense and more intense. Concluding cut “When an Angel Sheds a Feather” is a sound duet between Parlato and Vasandani, easily praisable for its atmospheric nature and vocal chemistry. Embedded within the closer is untitled hidden track, contrasting the light featured number.

All in all, Life Forum is an exceptional conception. Clayton’s musical footprints are visible on every single track. He serves as the catalyst for his fellow musicians to feed and draw inspiration from. In a time where so many innovations have come and gone in jazz music, Clayton keeps the progressive spirit ‘alive and kicking’. Life Forum is one ‘fresh’ affair.





Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.


Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.


That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.


Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.


Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.


Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.


'Thor: Ragnarok' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.


Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.


Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings Team for Wonderfully Sparse "Where Or When" (premiere)

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings' "Where Or When" is a wonderfully understated performance that walks the line between pop and jazz.


Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.