The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra: Live at MCG

Robert R. Calder

While not constantly bushing the boundaries of innovation, this band succeeds on the sheer talent of its players.

The Clayton-hamilton Jazz Orchestra

Live at MCG

Label: MCG Jazz
US Release Date: 2005-07-26
UK Release Date: 2005-08-29
Amazon affiliate

This stunningly good mainstream big band has been very much on the go for twenty years now, formed by the former Oscar Peterson drummer Jeff Hamilton in partnership with the Clayton Brothers -- saxophonist and soloist Jeff Clayton; and virtuoso bassist, soloist, conductor, and arranger John Clayton. Very creative, yet with no special ambitions toward stylistic innovation and generally no very individual sound -- though there are exceptions -- the playing is at so high a level, so un-hackneyed, that sheer quality triumphs.

For instance, "Like a Lover" has an interestingly scored opening, with John Clayton's bowed bass and some bass clarinet over a rhythm section that features a second bassist. The strictly comparable band of Kenny Clarke and Francy Boland, with a star lineup of native and American residents of Europe, had two drummers. The intriguing rather than atmospheric start to "Like a Lover" leads to the set's one solo from Snooky Young (a truly magnificent veteran trumpeter who spent a little time with Clarke-Boland), playing quietly with mute and with plunger before things do really become atmospheric. Jeff Clayton's soprano over the rhythm lifts the very good into the special with remarkable conjurations. Often, when this band is playing both solidly and with ensemble invention, something like this happens to take things up a notch.

The choice of repertoire is another recommendation. After a sufficient number of years listening to a lot of jazz, it's difficult to avoid recognising a lot of the older repertoire. Just looking at a programmed list of titles can become an experience in itself.

Sonny Stitt's "Eternal Triangle" turned up decades back on a celebrated set by the composer with Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Rollins. After thinking it's nice to see the name again, there's the question of what the arranger will turn out to have done with the title. Here, there's somewhat Basie-ish scoring for the saxophone section, but playing a fast winding bop line, and then each of them soloing in his turn: Callet, Fiddmont, and Clayton on altos, the pianist striking chords, Woodard on tenor with the brass coming in for a first climax, before Charles Owens's tenor does its scheduled wild roaring. This is more than a new assembly of the recognisable.

With the baritone sax prominent, brass paraphrases open the last track, and then the theme of Johnny Hodges' "Squaty Roo" is played on piano. There's nice work by the reed section, with baritone lead, and a sequence of solos with rhythm, Woodard, and Bohanon's burry trombone flinging throwing in a quote from Strayhorn's "Raincheck" to spice a characteristic solo. Clay Jenkins is dry-toned on trumpet, and Ellingtonisms from the pianist in a solo whose momentum is kept up. There's also Gilbert Castellanos on trumpet with band accompaniment, trombones and baritone. The insert refers to a drum solo, but Hamilton's excellent workout is all the better for being performed over a lovely weaving of well-arranged fragments of the theme in question.

Thus one can try to give the picture: A band with few current rivals, playing arrangements that are always good and sometimes inspired; one not only with a lot of solo strength, but presenting excellent solo opportunity. This doesn't mean just solo space -- as when everybody else but the rhythm drops out, and one hornman comes to the mike to blow -- or when everybody else but the rhythm drops out, and it becomes clear that while Tamir Hendelman (like some of the very best) doesn't have the most distinctive piano sound, he can stir a great variety of phrasing and rhythm.

You want straightforward, you got Rickey Woodard driving on tenor during a listener-reviving "Georgia". You want hints of the big band sound crystallised by Basie a few years after Pearl Harbor, you shouldn't mind hearing Woodard again, and the band style interacting with Horace Silver's "Jody Grind". Then there's John Clayton's bowed bass intro and his long solo feature on "Nature Boy", which seems to be about the sort of person who'd appreciate "Lullaby of the Leaves" and Bohanon after a prelude matching flutes with trombone and bass clarinet. Bop-and-Basie is also "Silver Celebration", a Horatiad written for (rather than by) the composer of "Jody Grind". The trombone solo after brass and drums has delicate support from Hamilton, and indeed everybody gets in on the quiet. Stunning and unpredictable dynamics.

The second bassist, Christoph Luty, gets some solo space on "Captain Brown", composed by Monty Alexander, Herb Ellis, and Ray Brown (whom a misprinted programme once referred to as 'Triple Threat'). Tamir Peterson presages what's really a two-bass duet -- for such is the effect of the theme on the piano intro: A hit study in Brown and the late Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen before the band gets Basie. Charles Owens solos here and also on "Mood Indigo", which could stand more re-scorings along the lines of Jeff Clayton's here every so many years. Ira Nepus sounds as if he might be playing the legendary bass trumpet, so carefully does he handle his muted trombone solo. After Owens and biggish brass, a half-chorus of bowed bass, and back to the quiet and the exceptional Nepus. Right in the middle of things there's an arrangement of Thelonious Monk's "Evidence", with curious-sounding phrases of unusual instrumentation introducing an idiomatic band passage from which emerges Randy Napoleon's electric guitar, whose slightly clipped, almost rushed-sounding phrasing almost on the mandolin-ish side pushes forward the beat. Making the heart of a performance of a Monk number a feature for four of the band's five trumpeters was the sort of inspired decision characteristic of this whole set. After the brassy climax of a false ending, the opening again, and finally the close.

We are also reminded: 'A portion of the proceeds of sales of this CD will go to Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, a multi-discipline, minority-directed arts and learning center serving the urban community in Pittsburg, PA.'

Suggestions of family spirit notwithstanding, all these guys can play, and this really is a very well-arranged very, very good big band.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.