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Bottom’s Up: John Clayton, Rodney Whitaker, Victor Wooten at the Mesa Arts Center

Patricia Myers By

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Bottom's Up: John Clayton, Rodney Whitaker, Victor Wooten
Mesa Arts Center
Mesa, AZ
September 27, 2013

West Coast bassist John Clayton created a trio called "Bottom's Up" with fellow bassists Rodney Whitaker and Victor Wooten for a 90-minute concert that showcased their collective and individual talent. An audience opting to attend a concert by just three bass players, with no horn, piano, guitar or drums, likely would bring a positive bias for that instrument. If anyone else felt the slightest misgiving about the concept, that rapidly was allayed by the stunning musicality of the performance.

The three musicians proved to be a compatible and inventive combo. The concert flowed through standards and originals via improvised exchanges that defined what real jazz is all about; that is, less chart-reading and more spontaneous invention. Most of the originals were so new that several were still untitled.

The concert opened with a Clayton original, "JC's RV," an upbeat chart featuring three acoustics exploring a upbeat chart. The Beatles' "Yesterday" was launched by Whitaker handling the melody, with Wooten, a founding member of Bela Fleck, playing his more-usual electric bass, and Clayton injecting the contrast of bowed bass lines.

Wooten's "Mastery through Love" was a deeply pensive chart that reflected his spiritual nature as he soloed on electric, complemented by Clayton's minor changes on bowed bass. Clayton chose to lead a favorite from the 1960s, "Sunny," that explored the melody in bowed and plucked styles, as Whitaker tapped percussively on his acoustic and Wooten provided a walking bass line.

An hour into the concert brought solo performances. Whitaker delivered his trademark richly warm ballad style on "Willow, Weep for Me." Clayton offered an untitled original that included bow- taps on the strings to contrast with his flowing warmth. Wooten delivered a medley on electric bass, opening with "Norwegian Wood" that offered flamenco techniques, segueing into "Night in Tunisia" in the two-handed tapping style of Stanley Jordan, and closing with a percussive-infused treatment of "Caravan."

Clayton referenced Nashville bluegrass/jazz bassist Edgar Meyer for another new, untitled chart that was unabashedly country in form and style, eliciting chuckles from some in the audience of 400. The final selection was performed by a quartet created by inviting Randy Vogel, Mesa Arts Center's assistant director, to play acoustic bass on an improvised "Randy's Blues."

The concert was the first of three scheduled for Clayton as artist-in-residence for the center's fourth year of "Jazz from A to Z" that focuses on music performance and music history as related to jazz. Clayton is leading classes and workshops at the center and in schools for students and teachers. He will return to the stage on Dec. 17 with his pianist son, Gerald Clayton, and alto saxophonist brother, Jeff Clayton, in a quintet setting with Terell Stafford on trumpet and Obed Calvaire on drums. The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra will play on March 7, Clayton co-leading with his brother and his longtime colleague, drummer Jeff Hamilton, whom he often introduces as "my brother-from-another-mother."

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