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Gerald Clayton: Bells on Sand (Blue Note)

The pianist’s second Blue Note release

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Gerald Clayton: Bells on Sand (Blue Note)
The cover of Bells on Sand by Gerald Clayton

Themes of meditation, solitude, and reflection fill Gerald Clayton’s second Blue Note release, a surprising issuance from that reservoir of classic ’50s/’60s jazz profundity and contemporary jazz fireballs. Throughout, the pianist surrounds himself with a cast that reflects the music’s unlikely alliances: Charles Lloyd on saxophone, father John Clayton on bass, Justin Brown on drums, and 24-year-old Portuguese multi-instrumentalist and composer Maro on vocals. “Together, they explore the impact and abstraction of time,” the liner notes state.

Bells on Sand is a collection of ethereal sketches connected by quietude. Yawning arco bass and lullaby-worthy piano adorn the opening track, “Water’s Edge,” followed by the equally sober “Elegia.” The warm, expressive vocals of Maro uplift a lovely piece by Catalan composer Federico Mompou, “Damunt de tu Només les Flors,” which has all the weight and grandeur of a later-period Antônio Carlos Jobim. The song floats like dappled sunlight on a still pond.

Clayton turns the classic standard “My Ideal” into a gentle solo romp. The dollops of lush electric keyboard in the dreamy funk of his Roy Hargrove dedication, “That Roy,” are extended skyward by Brown’s feathery touch. Another Clayton/Brown duet, “Rip,” curiously recalls ’70s fusion and claustrophobia, the duo stretching out to gently shake, rattle, and roll. Maro’s sensuous vocal beauty (Don Was, sign this woman!) returns on Clayton’s mesmerizing, flowing “Just a Dream.” Lloyd comes aboard for “Peace Invocation,” the master musician giving the entire album weight and focus.

As the world struggled with COVID in 2021, Gerald Clayton went inside, hunkered down, and found his center. Bells on Sand is certain proof of life.


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Gerald Clayton: Before & After

Ken Micallef

Ken Micallef was once a jazz drummer; then he found religion and began writing about jazz rather than performing it. (He continues to air-drum jazz rhythms in front of his hi-fi rig and various NYC bodegas.) His reportage has appeared in Time Out, Modern Drummer, DownBeat, Stereophile, and Electronic Musician. Ken is the administrator of Facebook’s popular Jazz Vinyl Lovers group, and he reviews vintage jazz recordings on YouTube as Ken Micallef Jazz Vinyl Lover.