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05/10/11

Gerald Clayton
Bond: The Paris Sessions
EmArcy

Thomas Conrad reviews new album from exciting young pianist and his trio

Of the new generation of jazz pianists to arrive after Brad Mehldau, Jason Moran and Vijay Iyer, Gerald Clayton has generated the biggest buzz on the street. Clayton is a less radical player than those predecessors, but his postmodern version of the tradition is highly imaginative and distinctive. He also possesses virtues rare for a musician in his 20s, like taste, balance, elegance and understatement.

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Gerald Clayton Trio

Most of the 16 pieces here are Clayton originals. His compositions are like graceful, evocative melodic and harmonic gestures that start in the middle and break off before you expect. In the liner notes, Clayton says he intends the album to act as an “organic storyline,” and there is a flowing sense of connection. But the narrative is episodic and connotative rather than linear. “Bond: Fresh Squeeze” is representative: It starts as a simple figure, repeated insistently through ambivalent variations, then spikes and splashes into complexity. Even Clayton’s intense moments feel meditative. On quieter explorations, like “Sun Glimpse,” the gentleness of his touch is hypnotic. But no Clayton concept stays one-dimensional or ends where it began. His young trio with bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Justin Brown has already been together for several years. It seems wrong to call them “tight” because they’re so fluid, but they are creatively coordinated.

While Clayton the composer is a fresh thinker (and elaborates his own forms in unpredictable ways), he is most interesting as a fearless interpreter of standards. “If I Were a Bell” and two Jerome Kern songs, “All the Things You Are” and “Nobody Else But Me,” retain their identities even as their content is fragmented and totally reconfigured. Clayton fits them organically into the streaming suite of this album.

Originally published in May 2011
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