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The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra is in the process of exploding on the international consciousness, an "overnight success" after eighteen years. While the CHJO has been hugely popular on the West Coast and Japan, and famously anchored the Hollywood Bowl for three years, it just made its New York debut on April 21 at the Jazz Standard (among the appreciative audience: Benny Golson, Frank Wess, Rufus Reid, and John Pizzarelli). From New York, it was on to the Kennedy Center (with Regina Carter, Nancy Wilson, Dianne Reeves, and Liza Minelli), then to play and record at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild in Pittsburgh. European festivals and Japan will be next. It seems their #1 designation in the Downbeat Readers' poll prompted action on contracts that were previously "shelved," and the whole world is finally waking up to what the earthquake-prone have known for years.
In the interests of full disclosure, I am obliged to say that the CHJO is my favorite big band. I believe they are unmatched for chops, class, crispness, and swing; they also deliver more consistently interesting compositions and charts than any other big band I've ever witnessed. With the ideal use of spaces and surprises, they play both hot and cool, with a peerless verve and joy. And while I'm in confession mode, I must say that Jeff Hamilton is my favorite drummer: a brilliant and imaginative soloist, he provides organic propulsion to the band, always furthering the music rather than his own ego. He also writes memorable tunes, as do the Claytons, the brothers John and Jeff.
Obviously there's no chance of a purely objective review here (as if such a thing were ever possible), so I will just note some items of interest on Shout Me Out, using asterisks instead of adjectives. These include the * solos on the title track, which work like a crate full of Zoloft, and the * trumpet and vocal performance of "Snooky" Young on "I Want a Little Girl," accompanied by the "CHJO Glee Club." (Octogenarian Snooky played with Jimmy Lunceford and Thad Jones, among others, and has been with the CHJO since its inception; he did a trumpet solo at the Standard that got a rafter-shaking ovation.) Then there's the * bass/hand drum transformation of "Insensitive," featuring John's * arco work, and the * Clay Jenkins ballad, "Yellow Flowers After." And Jeff Hamilton's * "Max." And the band's * version of "Day by Day," showcasing the * Rickey Woodard. And John Clayton's * tribute to Basie ("Nice to Meet You") and his * arrangements throughout. And... and... well, actually, just about all of it, with the exception of Charlie Owens's soprano sax pyrotechnics on "One for Horace Tapscott." Nothing personal, just not my favorite instrument. (Sorry, Charlie.)
Shout Me Out was released in 2000 on the Fable label. Do catch them live if you can, and meanwhile, hunt up this CD for big band jazz at its snap, crackle and popping best. It will hold you nicely until the new CHJO Live at the Craftsmen's Guild comes out.
Track Listing: Shout Me Out, Max, Plunger Mute Syndrome, Yellow Flowers After, Grizzly, Day by Day, Nice to Meet You, One for Horace Tapscott, Barbara's Rose, I Want a Little Girl, How Insensitive
Personnel: Leaders ~John Clayton, Jr. (arco bass), Jeff Hamilton (drums), Jeff Clayton (lead alto sax/flute/oboe/piccolo). The Orchestra ~ Bijon Watson (lead trumpet), Eugene "Snooky" Young, Oscar Brashear, Clay Jenkins, Bobby Rodriguez (trumpet), Ira Nepus (lead trombone), George Bohanon, Isaac Smith (trombone), Maurice Spears (bass trombone), Keith Fiddmont (alto sax, clarinet), Rickey Woodard (tenor sax, clarinet), Charles Owens (tenor and soprano sax, clarinet), Lee Callet (baritone sax, bass clarinet), Bill
Cunliffe (piano),Christoph Luty (bass), Jim Hershman (guitar).