Foremost among their many attributes, the Clayton Brothers are the snazzy stewards of a timeless brand of funky hard bop that won’t go out of style so long as any of us have a hedonistic bone in our bodies. While they’ve set an unremittingly high standard for this music over their past 30-plus years together, bassist John and saxophonist Jeff Clayton provide an excellent starting point for neophytes with The Gathering, a well-rounded showcase for their rich musical stew of ballads, blues and funk-bop, in which the longstanding quintet is abetted by a couple of ingeniously simpatico guest stars.
The album is studded with original party anthems, two apiece by Jeff and John, with Jeff’s alto joined on the frontline by regular member Terell Stafford on trumpet and special guest Wycliffe Gordon on trombone. The best of these is John’s opener, “Friday Struttin’,” which features swinging fanfares that encourage the soloists to tag their own phrases, and Jeff’s “This Ain’t Nothin’ But a Party,” which kicks off with a nasty interlocking groove from John, drummer Obed Calvaire and John’s son, pianist Gerald Clayton, and snowballs from there.
The Claytons also tee up original songs designed to maximize the strength of their guests. Gordon pours forth creamy phases and bellows to the rafters on Jeff’s “Coupe de Cone,” and Stefon Harris moves his mallets over the vibraphone with the savoir faire of Fred Astaire on John’s execrably titled but reliably punchy “Stefon Fetchin’ It.” For covers, there is a trio rendition of Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain” by the three Claytons, nourished by the dark liquid of John’s bowed bass, and Benny Carter’s “Souvenir,” which Jeff plays with a delicious ache.
Last but not least, check out John’s sophisticated bossa nova, “Touch the Fog,” featuring Harris’ vibes and Jeff’s alto flute, and the modal and moody “Some Always,” Gerald’s lone composition on this terrific collection.