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Jay Clayton is a jazz singer who deserves wider recognition. She’s a solid, mature talent and has enjoyed a performing career that started in the 1960s. The show was a homecoming for Clayton – she spent years living and teaching in Seattle and Europe. She’s also supporting a new release titled Brooklyn 2000 from Sunnyside Communications (SSC 1096D). The CD is a nicely done effort that includes work by pianist George Cables, saxophonist Gary Bartz, drummer Jerry Granelli, bassist Anthony Cox and sound engineer Sascha von Oertzen. The show at Cobi’s was a stripped-down version of the recording, with Clayton backed by the stellar team of Cables and Bartz. The trio covered much of the material from the record. Cobi’s is a spartan, intimate room in the 48th Street music store district. It’s not a hip, trendy atmosphere in there – it’s all about the music. That night, Clayton’s fans got what they came for and she gained some new ones. The Clayton-neophytes in attendance were surprised by the fresh, vital and challenging music coming from this little group of jazz veterans. The leader and her sidemen combined old-school facility with the ability to play free and loose. The band is thoroughly grounded in a classical jazz approach – but even trading solos on 32-bar song forms, never sounded like they were just “running the changes.”
Clayton started the set with an unaccompanied vocal excursion. She said it was an attempt to make sense out of recent events that have affected her – like the New York terrorist attacks and the death of pianist Tommy Flanagan. She tastefully and creatively used electronic effects – including a digital delay that allowed her to build voice tracks layer upon layer and improvise over the idea she’d just put down. She weaved a complex fabric of sound and accompanied herself – much like guitarist Bill Frisell often does. It was forward-looking and free, with elements of Native American song, signature vocal nuances and traditional jazz-influenced phrasing that would echo throughout the rest of the set.
Clayton talked quite a bit to the appreciative crowd between tunes. She was performing for longtime fans, and her relaxed banter kept everyone at ease and focused on the music. The audience included more than a few jazz singers (and aspiring jazz singers) who followed the band’s every move and clapped eagerly and earnestly after solos.
The subtle use of electronics – harmonizers, delays and effects – was super-hip, and would have impressed even the downtown Tonic crowd. Maybe that venue and that crowd are something Clayton should investigate.
Cables’ piano playing was percussive and angular. He controlled the stage and accompanied Clayton and Bartz with tasty timekeeping and comping – and accompanied himself with vocalizations that were somewhere between a song and a grunt. He utilized lots of deglisses and slid into a McCoy Tyner mode on the last tune “Lament For John Cotrane.” The lament had Clayton singing wordless and plaintive lines over a 4/4 vamp. She kicked some effects in and absolutely nailed it – the vocal synthesizer effects really grabbed the audience. Bartz traded his alto for a curved soprano, which added to the ‘Trane vibe. The leader and Bartz worked through delicate, unison lines. The tune evolved into a 3/4 vamp and Cables reacted with the obligatory Tyneresque block chording. It was a fitting Coltrane tribute, a definite crowd-pleaser and a great way to end Clayton’s first set back in New York.