31st Annual Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland
Sporting a bow tie he claimed he wore only to undo coolly during the show, pianist Gerald Claytonand his trio took the stage shortly after Croker. Aside from "Major Hope," the group's six-tune set stuck to material from Clayton's 2009 release Two-Shade (Decca), but expanded the pieces considerably. "Sunny Day Go," which closed the show, was particularly stretched, at least doubling the 6:45 length of the recording. Such space allowed Clayton ample room to display his emerging voice, one he pounded out with abandon, testing ideas, shifting focus, pushing for more. This didn't always lead to success, and some of the pieces were, perhaps, stretched beyond their means. But there's little question that Clayton, while still a work-in-progress, is a major talent. And his intentions of fulfilling his promise were in full view on this afternoon. Bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Justin Brown, retained from the Two-Shade recording, thundered admirably behind the pianist, often exchanging laughs and nods of approval. Yet it was hard to shake the sense that this was Clayton's gig. That, while the trio's music meshed, the pianist nevertheless was (or was wishing to be) a player apart.
Gerald Clayton and Joe Sanders
April 18: Nora McCarthy
While not actually part of the JazzFest schedule, the return of this Cleveland-native singer (and former stalwart of the city's jazz scene) from New York for a performance at Nighttown fit in well with the hometown spirit the festival always exudes. Featuring several songs from her latest release, Circle Completing (2008), McCarthy's vocals often recalled the soft, strained desperation of another Cleveland vocalist, the great Jimmy Scott. The album is, in fact, something of an homage to Scott, ending with the McCarthy original, "Faith in Time (Jimmy's Song)."
But McCarthy (pictured on right) skipped that one on this night. Instead, Scott's influence shown through on another original composition, the one she calls her theme song, "Life Is a Song to Sing," and on "April in Paris," her vocals fluttering with an acceptance of loss and regret, yet insisting that the road stay open before her; she the more able of treasuring it for her backlog of experiences. Elsewhere, she swung through Van Heusen's "Come Fly With Me" and the original "Into the Middle of Something" with a relaxed cabaret swagger, and pounded out piano-like scatting on other standards. She was backed by the fine local trio of pianist Dan Maier, bassist Marty Block and drummer Roy King. Block, in particular, added a deep, invigorating second voice that countered McCarthy's vocals with slippery yet punching solos on nearly every number. The singer closed with a barn-burning version of Willie Dixon's "Little Red Rooster" that left the crowd crowing for more and nicely "upset, in every way."
April 19: The Cleveland Jazz Initiative / Jack Wilkins
The Cleveland Jazz Initiative is an ever-changing lineup of local jazz musicians founded by saxophonist Bobby Selvaggioand bassist Matt Charboneau. Featuring a frontline on this night of three saxophones and a trumpet, plus keyboards, bass and drums, the group alternated between hard-bop and cool jazz originals in opening for guitarist Jack Wilkins. For his part, Wilkens utilized his full, ringing tone, quick, flowing lines and chunky chords to fuel a set of mostly standards. Local stalwarts, bassist Peter Dominguez and drummer Ron Godale, filled out the trio. One of the night's highlights was a take on Oliver Nelson's "Butch and Butch" that had Wilkens pushing off with a quick, guitar boogie, before venturing into more complicated sentiments. Godale then thundered in with a crashing solo over Wilkens' bluesy riffs, and the guitarist rose later with deep, electric growls. "Rainy Day," which directly followed the Nelson tune, was another standout, with Wilkens clearing the stage for an absorbing, solo guitar treatment. "Kiwi Bird," "So Easy To Love" and "Tico Tico," followed in that order, closing the quick, eight-number set.