Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Graham Dechter – Right on Time

Jazz guitarist Graham Dechter’s debut as a bandleader is auspicious to say the least. A John Clayton protégé, he made his debut with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra at nineteen. Four years down the road, as befits a guitarist whose main gig is a big band, Dechter eschews gratuitous solo lines in favor of an assured, frequently aggressive chordal attack which nonetheless abounds with subtleties in voicing and shading. He plays straight through his amp without effects, generally with a round, slightly bassy tone that grows to include just a hint of distortion, threatening to combust at any second, when he feels like sending a crescendo over the edge. What’s most impressive about this is that Dechter does it mostly with either familiar or canonical material – it’s a cover album, but the interpretations are unquestionably his. It’s quite a ride.

Backing him are his bandmates: his mentor Clayton on bass, Jeff Hamilton (whose latest as bandleader, Symbiosis, is also excellent) on drums, and the vividly lyrical Tamir Hendelman on piano. The album kicks off a briskly swinging, meaty take on Low Down (by Thad Jones, NOT Boz Scaggs), following with a Jobim cover, Wave, subtly and effectively bluesy with a brisk and confident Dechter crescendo followed amusingly by Clayton’s tiptoeing around, up to a sneaky false ending from Hamilton. The group take their time with The Nearness of You (Hoagy Carmichael), giving it plenty of room to breathe, Hendelman’s solo echoing Dechter’s casual terseness.

I Ain’t Got Nothing But the Blues (one of three Ellington tunes here) is a showcase for Dechter’s sly aplomb with subtle hammer-ons and tremolo picking. The comparison might seem over-the-top, but Dechter’s seemingly intuitive feel for the blues and fresh chordal approach remind of a young Matt Munisteri (albeit without the bluegrass), especially in the suaveness of In a Mellow Tone. Here he eggs his bandmates on, to the point where Hendelman smacks his way in with some impatient staccato as the first guitar solo winds up, then nips at Dechter’s heels for the rest of the song. And when it’s Clayton’s turn to step out, he comes in with a train whistle. Otherwise, Johnny Hodges’ Squatty Roo is a lickety-split romp full of post-Wes Montgomery guitar articulation; his saxist dad Brad Dechter’s bluesy title track works as both clinic in keeping it simple and on track, and an exercise in trick endings; and the old standard Broadway provides ample opportunity for Dechter to muscle up its horn chart. Considering the amount of time the players on this album have clocked together, it’s no surprise to hear such an abundance of convivial, good-natured jousting and interplay. Dechter’s wunderkind years may be behind him now, but with a whole career in front of him, it’ll be very interesting to watch him develop. Let’s hope he starts playing his own compositions – if this cd is any indication, they ought to be captivating. And if not, he’s made a mark as an individual, first-class interpreter worth watching over the months and years to come.

December 21, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Jeff Hamilton Trio – Symbiosis

[editor’s note – it’s just this poor guy’s luck that we decided to bring back Good Cop and Bad Cop after almost a year’s hiatus to review this one…]

Bad Cop: Let’s see, the Jeff Hamilton Trio has an album of familiar jazz standards. JUST what we need!

Good Cop: This puts an interesting spin on it, a drummer-led piano trio.

Bad Cop [sarcastic]: All covers except for one original, that’s a good start. Let’s hear that one first.

Good Cop: Here you go – it’s a samba.

Bad Cop: Sounds pretty generic to me. Eighteen hours setting up all those mics for a 25 second percussion solo. Now that’s what I call efficient…

Good Cop: Samba is like blues, it’s a stylized genre, a lot of the changes follow a specific pattern…

Bad Cop [peeved]: PFFFFT. What’s next? Let’s try the title track. I don’t know this one – by some European guy, Claus Ogerman?

Good Cop: He’s an arranger and composer, he worked with Tom Jobim and lately Diana Krall.

Bad Cop [the sarcasm is getting out of hand] : Now that’s really got me excited. Hmmm…this is actually quite beautiful. Nice cantabile ballad. Now why don’t I know this guy? And who’s the piano player?

Good Cop: Maybe because you’re not a Diana Krall fan? The piano player is Tamir Hendelman, he plays with the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. As does the drummer, Jeff Hamilton.

Bad Cop: Who’s the bass player? Sounds like John Clayton, got a nice groove going.

Good Cop: That’s Christoph Luty.

Bad Cop: OK. Let’s hear the rest of this thing. Track one please.

Good Cop: This is You Make Me Feel So Young. Nice exuberant, bright, lyrical piano, huh?

Bad Cop: OK, you got me there. What’s next?

Good Cop: This is Midnight Sun. Lionel Hampton tune.

Bad Cop: Interesting how the drums stay on the DL til the second verse kicks in. Grace and suspense.

Good Cop: Hamilton was in Hamp’s band in 1975, I guess that left a mark.

Bad Cop: I should say so. Let’s hear the next cut…oh yeah, the title track, we already heard that. Fast forward, what’s next?

Good Cop: Gershwin. Fascinating Rhythm. Not exactly the Moonlighters’ version…

Bad Cop: Gotta give these guys credit, they’ve really made this their own, how they skirt the melody with all those drum breaks, that’s cool. I like that piano solo too.

Good Cop: And the way that little drum solo toward the end winds up with a press roll back to the head…

Bad Cop: You know, I am actually starting to like this, believe it or not. OK, for awhile anyway. This is a Ray Brown tune, Blues for Junior, nice swing to it but it doesn’t have much in the way of a real melody…

Good Cop: OK, here’s the next one. Polka Dots and Moonbeams. You know this one.

Bad Cop [aside] And how. Doesn’t sound much like it – I like the bowed bass on the intro…and the piano, this guy really makes it sing.

Good Cop: What’s with the role reversal? You’re supposed to be cynical, jaded, embittered, the one who’s seen it all, heard it all.

Bad Cop: But I don’t hate this, that’s the strange thing. Oh yeah, here comes that samba. No thanks.

Good Cop: Can we please resume roles, you’re stealing my thunder. This one’s Blues in the Night.

Bad Cop: Harold Arlen. For the gazillionth time. But listen, the bass is playing a horn line. Bowing it! It’s good, too!

Good Cop: And check how Hendelman climbs out of that solo, big and glittery.

Bad Cop: Where’s the drummer here? He’s almost invisible.

Good Cop: Gotcha!

Bad Cop: Um. OK. Yeah, got me. You’re not supposed to notice the drums, DUH. Oh wait, we finally get some big cymbal splashes to up the ambience. You know, I should put this on my boudoir mix along with Sade and Al Green.

[Good Cop stifles a laugh]

Bad Cop: No, seriously.

Good Cop: Why don’t we wrap up this cd instead. This is the last cut. Ellington tune, The Serpent’s Tooth.

Bad Cop: I don’t know this one. Who was it that said that it never hurts to cover Ellington a few times?

Good Cop: That was Graham Dechter, I believe. Hamilton’s bandmate in the Clayton/Hamilton orchestra.

Bad Cop: I wouldn’t touch Ellington with a ten foot pole. Unless I was Steely Dan. One screwup and you make a real fool of yourself.

Good Cop: Well, let’s see how these guys do. Messing with the tempo and having a ball, seems to me.

Bad Cop: Tasteful bass solo. Drum breaks. A showcase for the rhythm section. Which is pretty much what this is when you think about it, in the oldschool sense of the word. Except the piano here is the lead instrument. And I want to learn more about this guy, does he have anything else out?

Good Cop:Yeah, he’s on Capri along with the other guys here.

Bad Cop: Can you do me a favor and get me a comp copy?

Good Cop: Back in character, I see. Always looking to get over. Why don’t you just buy the damn thing?

Bad Cop: Why is it you get all the good cds?

Good Cop: Start being less of a peevish ass and you might get one or two. Woops, that’s me being cynical.

Bad Cop: Touche!

Good Cop. OK, it says in the press material that All About Jazz raved about this and I have to say that they were right this time around.

Bad Cop: Usually that’s the kiss of death.

Good Cop: No it’s not.

Bad Cop: Better them than us!

[editor’s note: Symbiosis came out on Capri Records in September, available at their site, at shows and at better record retailers who are aware that jazz exists]

December 16, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Clayton Brothers at Dizzy’s Club, NYC 1/16/09

No Wasted Notes Week must have gone into double overtime. Friday night’s early show by the Clayton Brothers at Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center was a clinic in good fun, good taste and good chops. The quintet adhere to the long-hallowed tradition of stating the tune and then following with solos around the horn, either over the changes or some permutation thereof. What differentiates them is their complete commitment to melody and making what they play actually count for something: even when trumpeter Terell Stafford (a frequent McCoy Tyner sideman) would ride a crescendo about as far out as he could go, there was no doubt that he’d eventually land solidly. Otherwise, there’s something to be said for keeping it in the family and in the case of this band it works like a charm. The Claytons (patriarch John on bass, brother Jeff on alto, son Gerald on piano and adopted son Obed Calvaire on drums) all share a wry sense of humor, a prominent,  constantly recurring, most welcome trait. 

 

Throughout their hourlong set, John Clayton – a Ray Brown acolyte – restored the phrase “smooth grooves” to its rightful place in the lexicon, providing a supple pulse occasionally spiced with counterintuitive bowing and a marvelously tuneful, even minimalist sensibility. This was especially evident on the Kenny Burrell composition Bass Face, written for Ray Brown. To John Clayton’s credit, he put his own stamp on it, a cool, sly, slinky take (deadpan would be an accurate word, except that Clayton was wearing one kind of grin or another throughout the show).

 

Jeff Clayton is something of the group’s Secretary of Entertainment. John, a self-described “California boy,” groused about walking all the way down to the club from 75th Street in what these days of global warming is unseasonable cold (temps in the teens). “I just waited on the wing for the boat,” Jeff announced, referring to Thursday’s US Air flight’s miraculously successful Hudson River crash landing. Working up to a big swell, Jeff Clayton goodnaturedly bedeviled his mates, backing off, playing amusing little fractals and then when everybody seemed thoroughly nonplussed, he’d swing the melody by the tail and in an instant everybody would be back at it again. Yet perhaps the most emotionally impactful solo of the night was his, plaintive and thoughtful on an imaginative, low-key Monty Alexander arrangement of the old Broadway chestnut What Is Love. 

 

The night’s most impressive solos belonged to Gerald Clayton, who set a devious tone early on and didn’t stray far. Whether winding up one of a seemingly endless series of impressionistic crescendos with a vividly Asian-inflected melody, or plucking the strings inside the piano for a banjo-like tone while John Clayton worked up a guitar line, he kept both the audience and the rest of the band on their toes. Drummer Calvaire was fearless and all business, playing at a sonic level just short of what would have been too loud for the room – but he never went there. His star turn came on the Jeff Clayton composition (from the band’s reputedly excellent new ArtistShare CD Brother to Brother – a tribute to other brother acts in jazz throughout the ages) Wild Man, dedicated to Elvin Jones. Calvaire judiciously and inventively mixed in many familiar Elvin tropes – like the sudden drop on the tom or the aggressive ping off the top of a cymbal – without turning a heartwarming and rather exciting homage into parody. The band closed with a John Clayton number chronicling a trip through a traveler’s hell, starting with a missed flight in Berlin and ending with the bassist taking the stage, late, in Tokyo, 48 hours later, several connections later, probably with no sleep. But it wasn’t bitter! The band swung the song resolutely, just as John Clayton must have walked it and when they reached the part where he finally reached the stage, the melody rose and became utterly blissful, Stafford and Jeff Clayton fueling the party. It may have been cold outside last night, but there was a fire on the fifth floor at 60th and Broadway.

January 17, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment