[JPL] Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra caps jazz festival with a roar
drjazz at drjazz.com
Wed Sep 5 22:49:42 EDT 2007
Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra caps jazz festival with a roar
September 4, 2007
BY MARK STRYKER
FREE PRESS JAZZ CRITIC
Is the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra the best big band on the planet?
It's a silly question, of course, because bands as diverse as those led
by Bob Brookmeyer, Maria Schneider, Gerald Wilson, Wynton Marsalis and
the cooperative Vanguard Jazz Orchestra are rooted in such contrasting
aesthetics that the notion of "the best" is a chimera.
But I'll say this after hearing the Los Angeles-based Clayton-Hamilton
band close out the Detroit International Jazz Festival Monday night at
the Hart Plaza Amphitheatre: There's no band in the world right now that
swings as hard as this one, and any group willing to take them on in a
battle of the bands might want to have a chaplain standing by just in case.
The band, with violinist Regina Carter as a special guest, played one of
the most viscerally thrilling sets of the entire festival. It was, in
fact, the most satisfying festival finale in memory. The opening "I Be
Serious About Dem Blues" catalogued many of the band's strengths, among
them the big-train swing, drummer Jeff Hamilton's marriage of power and
precision, dynamics that ranged from whispers to startling roars and the
charismatic ensemble that, after 22 years of working together, breathes
The band features a gaggle of soloists with strong personalities,
including tenor saxophonist Rickey Woodward, trombonist and former
Detroiter George Bohanon and the band's heart-and-soul, 88-year-old
trumpeter Snooky Young --- who played lead with nearly every important
big band in jazz dating back to Jimmie Lunceford in 1939. Young's
strutting plunger-mute breaks set the table for Monday's entire set.
But fundamental to the success of any big band is the vision of its
composers and arrangers. Here those duties fall entirely to John
Clayton, who combines the tradition of Count Basie arrangers like Frank
Foster and Ernie Wilkins with more modern influences, especially the
Pontiac-born Thad Jones. Like Basie's arrangers, Clayton builds swing
into his charts via punchy rhythm and phrases that ride the beat; he
doesn't overstuff the music with cerebral tricks and tangents.
Which is not to say Clayton isn't sophisticated. Even a straight-ahead
blues like the opener was invigorated by twists of rhythm, melody,
harmony and orchestration. His arrangement on "Squatty Roo," a swing-era
jump tune, slyly merged pre-war and post-war big band idioms, from
headstrong riffing to slippery rhythms. Like Jones, Clayton writes juicy
brass chords thick with astringent harmony and his saxophone lines can
have a pixieish quality. Those qualities came together in a smoldering
arrangement of Sonny Stitt's sine qua non of bebop, "The Eternal Triangle."
A gifted bassist, Clayton solos with the band but leaves the ensemble
work to Christoph Luty. Clayton also conducts. Monday he stalked the
alley in front of the band in animated fashion akin to Gerald Wilson
(another octogenarian who led his own band at the festival Sunday and
had a front row seat Monday).
Carter, the festival's artist-in-residence who has worked with the
Clayton-Hamilton band previously, took alluring solos on several tunes,
among them Wilson's bluesy shuffle "Imagine My Frustration." She also
sat in the saxophone section on a number, and played a joyously relaxed
version of "A Tisket-A-Tasket" with just the rhythm section including
Clayton on bass. The music bounced along, accompanied by wide grins from
both Carter and Clayton, and as I looked around, it was hard to find
anyone at Hart Plaza who wasn't smiling.
Contact Mark Stryker at 313-222-6459 or mstryker at freepress.com
Dr. Jazz Operations
Oak Park, MI 48237
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