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Gerald Clayton-Elena Pinderhughes Duo at Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society

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This powerful connection between the music and the audience is a testament to the beauty of the music and the impact of this magnetic duo’s performance.
Gerald Clayton-Elena Pinderhughes Duo
Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society
Live performance
Half Moon Bay
Sunday, April 28, 2024

It is always a rewarding experience to attend a show at Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society in Half Moon Bay near San Francisco, both for the music and the beachfront location. As usual, president and artistic director Barbara Riching was the hostess and emcee, and the show, featuring Gerald Clayton and Elena Pinderhughes, filled the 200-seat room with energy and passion—a testament to their exemplary musicianship.

Dutch-born, Los Angeles-raised Gerald Clayton is a thoughtful and complete pianist and composer. His playing encapsulates the history of jazz piano from swing up to the avant-garde. I say this because he largely avoids dissonance—a ubiquitous characteristic of free jazz—except as an occasional exclamation point or a brief diversion from his flowing melodic ideas. His playing is spacious yet finely chiseled with a reflective but soothing quality that bears at least a hint of the great Bill Evans. And while his music sometimes evinces an oceanic quality, he can just as quickly jump off the dime and into a pot of raging hot chitlins. The man can cook—even within his refined, "big chops" technique.

Elena Pinderhughes brings impressive versatility and range to this unusual duo. As a flutist and vocalist, she is a phenom, a former child prodigy who has grown into the towering young jazz woman she is. She effortlessly shines in various genres—jazz to salsa, hip-hop to rhythm 'n blues. I wouldn't be surprised to find her equally at home playing classical music. I could see her killing it on Erik Satie's "Gymnopédie."

Her flute's tone is full and throaty, yet light, airy, and incredibly pure. Her presence and playing were captivating and rapturous. She often appeared to draw audience members into a light trance, although they regularly gave her a spirited ovation after each solo.

This powerful connection between the music and the audience is a testament to the beauty of the music and the impact of this magnetic duo's performance. Their presentation, too, was relaxed and classy: Clayton sported a blue Dutch Boy cap and comfortable beige sport jacket, while Pinderhughes tastefully attired herself in a one-piece burnt-orange suit with thin, striated, vertical black stripes. She wore hoop earrings that dangled astride a dense chignon atop her head. Together, they have an inviting, easy, and smooth stage presence.

On to the music. The set opened with Clayton breezing into a Bach fugue-like figure. After he settled into the groove, Pinderhughes entered, her serenely piercing flute playing in unison to pleasing effect.

The second tune, Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Louisa," opened with Clayton playing a single-lined 'hip classical' figure with his right hand while his left hand adroitly comped with block chords. Pinderhughes augmented her playing with appropriately breathy vocals. The set continued with the duo's congruent rendition of Thelonious Monk's zany piece, "Lulu's Back in Town."

Next came a lament: Clayton's "Birds Love," a piece about a nightingale pining away for his unrequited love. His "New York Frederick Douglas" composition, a furious political statement, à la Paul Bley, employed urgent avant-garde-ish type lines. He painted activist murals with his piano.

The penultimate tune, "Ode to Booker" (trumpet great Booker Little) was a soulful ballad, a Freddie Hubbard composition from an early Blue Note album, Hub Tones. It featured Clayton playing slow Harlem Stride accompaniment to Pinderhughes' poignant melody.

The fitting final tune was the jazz standard crowd pleaser "There is No Greater Love" by Isham Jones. When it ended, the audience jumped to its feet in a well-deserved standing ovation.

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