It's not easy to top a live performance by a big band at the Manchester's Craftsman's Guild. The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra continues the tradition of creating some of the grooviest, swinging jazz to hit the CD racks in recent memory. And that says a lot, considering what's out there. With Live at MCG, the band celebrates its 20th year in grand fashion.
The group goes old-school on this outing, revisiting compositions by such renowned composers as Hoagy Carmichael, Horace Silver, Sonny Stitt, and Thelonius Monk, among others, as well as some original tunes composed by band members. The set opens with Carmichael's "Georgia, which features Rickey Woodward on tenor sax. John Clayton, one of the orchestra's founding members, goes bowing on bass for the mellow "Nature Boy. While first three tracks are excellent, the band doesn't really get to open up until the fourth title: "Lullaby of the Leaves, with a trio arrangement by pianist Tamir Hendelman. This eight-minute swingfest features solos by Hendelman and trombonist George Bohanon.
The swinging continues with textbook big band offerings of "Silver Celebration, a lively tribute to Horace Silver penned by bassist Clayton. This one is highlighted with a sparkling trumpet solo by Gilbert Castellanos, complemented by a let's-get-mellow solo by Bohanon. Things mellow considerably with the elegant "Mood Indigo. This Duke Ellington, Irving Mills, and Barney Bigard classic features Ira Nepus on trombone and Charles Owens on tenor sax. Monk's "Evidence follows with solos by guitarist Randy Napoleon and tag-team action by trumpeters Castellanos, Sal Cracchiolo, Clay Jenkins, and Bijon Watson.
Recorded during four days of residency in Pittsburgh, Live at MCG is a straightforward example of what happens when nineteen competent musicians come together as one during a live performance. This CD is sure to get many plays by jazz lovers in general, and especially those who enjoy the sounds of a large band that has plenty of firepower in its horn section, supported equally well by the rhythm section.