For years now, eminent bassist John Clayton has been pursuing what he calls a longstanding dream: asking pianists he admires to record duets in a manner so relaxed and intimate it’s as if they are playing in the parlor of his home. The now-deceased pianists Hank Jones and Mulgrew Miller are among the collaborators Clayton successfully recruited for this endeavor. But perhaps because he didn’t want his duet project to be reframed as tributes or farewells, the first album released in this belated Parlor Series is with his son, Gerald Clayton.
Not surprisingly there are some gentle, luminescent gems among and within the eight-song program. The Antonio Carlos Jobim bossa nova “Zingaro” is handled patiently and methodically. Gerald Clayton’s “Sunny Day Go” is an evocative, wistful ballad in the vein of Michel Legrand. And when John Clayton unsheathes his bow on Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes,” the tune becomes the poignant highlight of the entire set.
But there are some problematic aspects of Parlor Series as well. The song choices are pretty conservative, with hoary standards like “Alone Together,” “Yesterdays” and “All the Things You Are” on the bill. (What, no “Autumn Leaves”?) In addition, the two sessions for this disc were recorded in January 2007 and April 2010, when Gerald Clayton was just 22 and nearly 26, engaging the august mastery of John Clayton in his mid-50s prime. These circumstantial flaws are inevitably compounded. Gerald delivers a perfectly respectable and straightforward take on “Yesterdays,” a suave, caressing swing treatment that suffers in comparison to John’s huge-toned, sophisticated and adventurous bass work. The contrast is even more dramatic when the duo decides to revamp “All the Things You Are” into separate four-minute solos before coming together for the final two minutes.
Since the sessions for Parlor Series, Gerald Clayton has progressed from a precocious pianist to a burgeoning near-master. A father-son reunion, with fewer standards and more arco bass, would be my humble request for an ideal continuation of John Clayton’s dream.