With Betty Carter gone, Seattle-based vocalist Jay Clayton is certainly a contender for the spot as the most innovative vocalist. Though her talents have been underappreciated by the masses, Clayton has been using her voice artfully as an instrument for over three decades. On this album, she soars and swoops through 11 mainstream and free-jazz originals with trumpeter Jim Knapp, alto saxophonist Briggan Krauss, pianist Randy Halberstadt, bassist Phil Sparks and drummer Aaron Alexander. Clayton exhibits a sweet earnestness (sounding sometimes like Abbey Lincoln) and explores her three-octave range that sets her apart from other divas. And, as an educator with a complete understanding of harmony and texture, and free-jazz experience from her New York Loft days, Clayton stretches way out with a seriousness that engages the listener. Her side players empathetically expand her unpredictable themes, especially on Alexander’s “Wild West,” a seven-minute, freely improvised song that gives everyone opportunities for roaming. Clayton caresses songs, and her pristine, lavishly flowing improvisations, bracing melodies, haunting lyrics, and her adept side musicians add up to a champion session.