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The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra: Live at MCG

The 19-piece Clayton-Hamilton band had just finished a tour of Cleveland, New York City and Washington, D.C., in May 2004. While “relaxing” in Pittsburgh the group recorded the tunes it had run through every night on the road. The orchestra was ready-and so was the crowd at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild. Conductor-bassist John Clayton did all the arrangements, and they’re loose, biting, explosive and oh so swinging. He has himself and the other side of the hyphen, hyperactive drummer Jeff Hamilton, to blame.

Plus let’s not forget those disciplined sections. When Clayton writes exclamation points, they’re spat out with a vengeance. When he wants the brass to be sassy, he can always depend on lead trumpeter Bijon Watson to end a split second after his section mates. Then there’s brother Jeff Clayton’s doubling skill with all his reeds. But it’s another reed expert, Rickey Woodward, whose tenor solos win all the prizes; check him out on “Georgia” and “Eternal Triangle.” Not surprisingly, two slow numbers are most memorable: “Mood Indigo,” for its clever reharmonizations of Duke Ellington’s famous opening, and “Nature Boy,” an arco showcase for John Clayton, who plays the last chorus all tremolo, then “tunes down” to a delicious low D for a quiet climax.

Originally Published