You can feel the echoes of Woody Herman, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington in every song that the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra interprets. You can feel the cool swing of Henry Mancini and the hard bop syncopation of Horace Silver too. And, of course, you can feel the all-star quality that this big band brings with it everywhere it goes.
Performing live at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild in Pittsburgh last year, the band gave local audiences a powerful dose of the kind of cure-all medicine that takes care of things. The prescription works all year long.
Although the band has a capable bassist in Christoph Luty, leader John Clayton sits in occasionally to highlight a sequence here or a chorus there. His feature on "Nature Boy" reveals the far-reaching balance that the band has achieved through its twenty-year association. Experience pays off. Orchestral sounds surround Clayton like a web of soft cotton as he takes the song to heart and explores its deepest feelings. Bowing gracefully for a lovely lyrical performance, he "sings" this one with true insight and perception.
Clayton's big band orchestral arrangements make use of all the various textures available. Flutes, bass clarinet, and guitar mix evenly with the expected sound of bright trumpets, booming trombones, and flippant saxophones. Each featured soloist, many of whom have been with the band for decades, gives it his all when placed in the spotlight.
Rickey Woodard grabs "Georgia" by the hand, swings her around, and lets his solo tenor saxophone voice thrill. Gilbert Castellanos spins Clayton's tribute to Horace Silver with a little of that old hard bop quintet magic. Later, Snooky Young turns "Like a Lover" into a growling blues with his soulful trumpet solo, leading the way for Jeff Clayton's sweet soprano saxophone prelude to romance.
Like the music of Ellington, Clayton's arrangements and compositions sizzle with authority and seem to be written with members of the band's family in mind. When Luty stretches out with a passionate pizzicato bass solo on "Captain Bill," you can hear two bassists interacting in the big band blues tradition. Charles Owens puts the icing on the cake with a high-stepping tenor solo that brings the band higher and higher. Ending the number with a traditional "Count-Bay-See" piano figure, Tamir Hendelman drives the tribute message home.
"Mood Indigo" features a passionate plunger mute trombone solo by Ira Nepus and an expressive rendering of this memorable melody by tenor saxophonist Owens. Songs by Monk, Sonny Stitt and Johnny Hodges follow with plenty of variety. True to form, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra turns in an all-star performance that shouldn't be missed. Highly recommended for the band's high caliber of musicianship as well as for John Clayton's superb band arrangements, Live at MCG opens doors that, for many readers, have been closed for too many years.
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