360

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra Plays with Regina Carter

Franz A. Matzner By

Sign in to view read count
The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra is exactly the band a director filming a swing-era period piece would want to put in front of the camera.
The Kennedy Center is one of several venues in Washington, DC for really good jazz, but when it comes to big bands, there's no place else in the city that can effectively spotlight a large group like the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. The eighteen-member Jazz Orchestra celebrated its 20th anniversary together with feature violinist Regina Carter at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater on February 10th, and it was an impressive, well-coordinated gathering of talent.

The Jazz Orchestra, co-led by brothers John and Jeff Clayton as well as Jeff Hamilton, is a classic piece of yesteryear in many ways, replete with matching suits, engraved music stands, and a standard heavy repertoire. After twenty years in existence, however, the group also continues to incorporate new talent and new charisma, managing to maintain a suitably traditional style without growing stale. Its younger members, who currently include Graham Dechter on guitar and Tamir Hendelman on piano, contribute to the band's agelessness, but the playful inquisitiveness and cool camaraderie of its elder members also plays its part. On stage, the co-leaders have developed a tri-part persona that would play as a perfunctory schtick if it weren't so well-executed and upfront about its classic showbiz nature. Conductor John Clayton keeps the show moving with witty-repartee, historical anecdotes, and literally fancy footwork as he dances while signaling the band with well-placed flourishes that sometimes make one wonder whether they are deployed to cue the band or guide the listening audience. Clayton's cool-as-a-cucumber personality is well complimented by brother Jeff and drummer Hamilton's comical contributions as they playfully rib their straight-man leader. For all the staging and playbook joking, however, the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra is still about delivering a note-perfect, energetic tour through big-band jazz.

Reminding everyone that big-band was originally about barn-raising beats to fuel dancehall escapades, the Jazz Orchestra opened the evening with three hard-hitting swing tunes, including a rambunctious take on Horace Silver's "The Jody Grind", before segueing into a rapid-fire version of Sonny Stitts' bebop tune "The Eternal Triangle". Appropriately, the complete saxophone line were given the chance to solo on this piece, with alto Keith Fiddmont and tenor player Charles Owens delivering stand-out runs.

Slowing things down for what would have been a chance to slow-dance with your sweetheart back in the cotillion days, John Clayton abandoned his conducting post for the bass on the evening's next piece, a beautifully presented version of a Johnny Mandel's composition "Emily". A highlight of the show, this piece confirmed the co-leaders' individual skills as instrumentalists as well as the Orchestra's ability to perform exceptionally crafted arrangements. Finishing off the first half of the performance with a Johnny Hodges tune, it was now time to bring on the night's featured artist, the one-and-only Regina Carter.

For those who have not yet been treated to a live performance of Regina Carter's soul-twinging, boundary-breaking violin playing, she is an outstanding musician in her own right and not to be missed on any occasion. Among the members of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, she adapted her unique style to fit in like a younger sister, matching their rich character and unshakable proficiency with her challenging persona and youthful mischievousness.

The peak of the night's entertainment, Ms. Carter opened with a moody Duke Ellington blues "Imaginary Frustration" that quickly had the audience eating out of her hand. Playing both bowed and pizzicato, Carter cleverly placed her violin in contrast to the deep throb of the baritone saxophone and unleashed a far ranging solo that expertly moved from clear-toned, vibrant classicism to country-styled free-flowing fiddling. Continuing to impress, both with her solos and her ability to integrate seamlessly into the saxophone line, Carter held everyone's attention for the remainder of the evening as the Orchestra regaled the audience with another five tunes—including a crowd-pleasing rendition of "Bags Groove" and a tongue-in-cheek take on "A Tisket, A Tasket"—pushing the performance well past its scheduled hour and 15 minutes.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Match&Fuse Dublin 2017 Live Reviews Match&Fuse Dublin 2017
by Ian Patterson
Published: September 24, 2017
Read Antonio Sanchez Group at Jazz Standard Live Reviews Antonio Sanchez Group at Jazz Standard
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: September 24, 2017
Read WOMAD 2017 Live Reviews WOMAD 2017
by Martin Longley
Published: September 21, 2017
Read Punkt Festival 2017 Live Reviews Punkt Festival 2017
by Henning Bolte
Published: September 17, 2017
Read Gary Clark, Jr. and Jimmie Vaughan at the Iridium Live Reviews Gary Clark, Jr. and Jimmie Vaughan at the Iridium
by Mike Perciaccante
Published: September 16, 2017
Read 38th Annual Detroit Jazz Festival Live Reviews 38th Annual Detroit Jazz Festival
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: September 15, 2017
Read "Miles From India at SFJAZZ" Live Reviews Miles From India at SFJAZZ
by Walter Atkins
Published: April 14, 2017
Read "Gary Clark, Jr. and Jimmie Vaughan at the Iridium" Live Reviews Gary Clark, Jr. and Jimmie Vaughan at the Iridium
by Mike Perciaccante
Published: September 16, 2017
Read "Punkt Festival 2017" Live Reviews Punkt Festival 2017
by Henning Bolte
Published: September 17, 2017

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.