Album Review: Clayton Brothers and Friends – The Gathering

Over the last several years, I’ve been developing a taste for – and appreciation of – jazz. Not the smooth “jazz flavours” stuff of 70s/80s late-night FM radio; my new-found tastes lean more toward hard bop, big band, fusion. My collection – both on CD and vinyl (the latter remaining my preferred medium) is growing, with titles from Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins and so on. The heavy hitters, you might say.

What I haven’t – for the most part – developed is much interest in the newer contemporary stuff. I’m fascinated by (and derive much joy from) the modern boogaloo sounds of New Mastersounds and others of their stripe, but when it comes to contemporary jazz, there hasn’t been much that has caught my attention. Perhaps I’m jus not looking in the right places.

But occasionally something does break through. And The Gathering, a new album credited to Clayton Brothers and Friends, is just such an album. With the exception of a Billie Holiday tune (“Don’t Explain,”) The Gathering is comprised of all new music composted by one or more of the band members. Clayton brothers Jeff (alto sax, alto flute) and John (bass) are joined on nearly all tracks by Terell Stafford (trumpet, flugehorn), Gerald Clayton (piano) and drummer Obed Calvaire. Stefon Harris (vibraphone) and/or Wycliffe Gordon (trombone) guest on a number of tracks.

This is jazz in its classic sense. Hints of the big band aesthetic, and plenty of swinging, are the order of the day here. No electronics here; throughout The Gathering it’s all about the organic approach. Sturdy tunes stand up on their own but allow the space essential for each player to take his turn at blowing. A pleasing balance of solo showcasing and ensemble playing is the hallmark of all the tracks on The Gathering. And when the band all come together toward the end of a number – as they do opener “Friday Struttin’” the excitement factor ups a few notches.

Harris’ dizzying vibes work on the playfully-titled “Stefon Fetchin’ It” channels Milt Jackson‘s MJQ work, and even when the ensemble dials the energy way back – as they do one the ballad “Souvenir” – they render the tunes expressively. And when things take a bluesy tuns as they do on “Blues Gathering,” hints of Count Basie‘s approach can be felt.

Anyone who enjoys the classic sounds of jazz will find plenty to like in this 2012 release from Clayton Brothers and Friends.

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