A relatively somber mood pervades much of Blues State, even in its uptempo moments, with trumpeter Clay Jenkins’ music bringing to mind something written in the ’50s to the effect that Miles Davis sounded like a man wandering in the wilderness. Miles, of course, always found his way out of that wilderness by discovering the most unexpected and beautiful musical pathways. Jenkins, whose music has Davis as its primary model, isn’t always so fortunate.
The group concept Jenkins has set up for his player is quite open considering that it’s mostly based on neo-mainstream swing and fairly conventional chord structures. Although the trumpeter is the most daring of the musicians here, guitarist Larry Koonse and pianist Harold Danko also keep the overall direction in a freer mode. Sometimes, however, things go on without fulfilling the goal of telling a story in a cogent fashion. Even with a conception that approaches so-called freebop, the players face the task of communicating with listeners. Oddly enough, Jenkins and his cohorts seem to keep things fairly together on alternating tracks. The opening “Humble Stumble” tends to stumble a bit, followed by “Batik,” an easy ballad that works nicely. The title track is an uneven, bluesy mixture of ideas, while Danko’s “Sizzle” offers some fire in a track that’s largely trumpet and guitar exchanges. “Play a Prayer” is OK but is dragged down by a dirgelike quality. This leads to a playful “Dancing Wildebeests,” a track holding Jenkins’ best solo. The fast “Work First” sputters and seems thrown together. Closing the CD is the easygoing ballad “Waiting for Caleb,” which has mellow charms.
Photos of a blue trumpet sculpture grace the front and back covers of this album, and one wonders why Jenkins or his label failed to pick up on a possibly clever title link. It would have been an easy bit of wordplay to title the album Blue Clay, incorporating both the sculpture material and Jenkins’ first name.