Gerald Clayton - Tributary Tales

Label/Year: Motema, 2017

Lineup - Logan Richardson: alto sax; Ben Wendel: tenor sax; Dayna Stephens: baritone sax; Gerald Clayton: piano; Joe Sanders: bass; Justin Brown: drums

Multifaceted pianist Gerald Clayton showed throughout all these years that he could easily adapt to any musical environment, from strictly traditional to spaciously untrammeled. His appreciated musicality has found expression in disparate projects, and we can hear him playing smooth jazz with Diana Krall and Michael Bubblé with the same enthusiasm as when he grooves with Charles Lloyd, Ambrose Akinmusire, or Roy Hargrove.

Besides this active role as a sideman, Clayton boasts a solid career as a leader and his fourth album of originals, Tributary Tales, confirms his writing talents and flair for modern post-bop. The set of creative artists that joins him here comprises a 3-horn section with saxophonists Logan Richardson, Ben Wendel, and Dayna Stephens, and a competent rhythm crew composed of bassist Joe Sanders, drummer Justin Brown and percussionists Henry Cole and Gabriel Lugo.

Hooks and thumps are distributed at full throttle in the opening piece, “Unforeseen”, whose compressed energy is expelled in great style. Clayton shows a remarkable self-sufficiency in the way his hands craft and interweave single lines and chords to build texture. The vigorous collisions of his left hand’s fingers with the piano’s lower register’s keys feel like opportune intense blows while the right hand follows the fierceness of the rhythmic pulse laid down by his bandmates. The saxophonists, flying more in parallel than oblique, also contribute for the collective commotion, which elegantly shifts from dizzying amusement to triumphant delight. A stunning first move, indeed.

Narrated with less agitation, but still steeped in a somewhat nervy stance, “Patience Patients” gains emphasis through the imaginative improvisations supplied by Clayton and Wendel.

Besides discovering poetry on the relaxing “Lovers Reverie” and “Dimensions: Interwoven” (spoken words by Carl Hancock Rux and Aja Monet), we can plunge into different musical settings like in the soul/gospel-inflected “Soul Stomp”, a fluctuating instrumentation armed with graceful moments, abundant rhythmic accentuations, and a rapturous, jovial posture.

Primarily propelled by Brown’s brushed rhythmic flux and Sanders’ spot-on bass lines, the persevering “Envisionings”, a waltz nurturing creativity, finds its emotional peak with Richardson’s authoritative improvisation.

The ebb and flow of “Are We” develops into multiple textural sections after starting a confluence of pensive poses and sparse touches delivered by piano and sax. Conversely, “Squinted” is colorfully brought by two distinct and buoyant saxophone melodies dancing on a firm percussive ground. Textural layers grow with the addition of piano, bass, and vocals, all heading toward a crescendo before a brief solo piano passage takes us to a restrained finale.

It’s noticeable how Clayton’s compositional style avoids traditional swinging grooves and bop clichés. Better than reviving dances of the past, he rather creates new ones, choreographing them with sophisticated movements. He does it unreservedly in the good company of his equally gifted peers.

          Grade  A

          Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Unforeseen ► 06 – Envisionings ► 10 – Soul Stomp