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Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra: Live at MCG


Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra Live at MCG

By Don Henke

One thing is sure when you get a Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra album. You’ll hear some of the swingingest big band jazz around. If it’s done live, it will be even better because an audience naturally inspires musicians to turn it up a notch. On this CD, recorded live at the Manchester Craftsmen Guild in Pittsburgh in May of last year, those rules apply.
    The set leads off with a hard-driving arrangement of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia”. Ricky Woodward’s tenor saxophone charges through the entire piece, inspired by the band behind him. He plays the head at a moderate tempo but soon is off and running, as is the band. Horace Silver’s “Jody Grind”, conversely, is taken at a slower, more bluesy pace. Woodward takes the first solo, again tearing through but within the confines of the chart. Trombonist Ryan Porter is up next, with a lot of growl. Co-founder Jeff Hamilton then plays a couple of drum breaks with his usual ease as the tune ends. Co-founder John Clayton then brings his bass down front to play “Nature Boy.” Clayton is one of the foremost arco players in jazz, as well as one of the best arrangers. All the tunes in this concert were his charts. The classic “Lullaby of the Leaves” is up next. It begins with a trio arrangement on the melody by pianist Tamir Hendelman with occasional comments from the ensemble. This is followed by a trombone solo by George Bohanon with the rhythm section. The rest of the brass
gets a few words in before Hendelman takes a solo with bass and drums. The remainder of the tune is more rhythm section with a little from the rest of the band.
    John Clayton’s tribute to Horace Silver, “Silver Celebration”, doesn’t include any overt references to Silver’s tunes (although the opening almost goes into “Sister Sadie”) but the overall feel is there. Gilbert Castellanos has an intricate trumpet solo, followed by a little of Hamilton’s drums and then a Bohanon solo that begins in a subdued manner but picks up markedly before some brush work by Hamilton. Another tribute, Ray Brown’s “Captain Bill” for Count Basie, begins with Hendelman playing a bit like the Count for several bars, then bassist Christoph Luty coming on like Brown for a long solo until the orchestra shouts and Hendelman solos again. Tenor saxophonist Charles Owens has a fine solo before the band and Hendelman take the tune out with a Basie ending.
    Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” begins almost dirge-like with trombonist Ira Nepus taking the bridge. Owens then comes back for a tenor solo at the same slow tempo. The dirge comes back with John Clayton’s arco bass leading the way. Nepus then gets the last few notes. Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence” gets a treatment befitting the composer at the beginning. Randy Napoleon has a guitar solo for a few choruses and Castellanos, Sal Cracchiolo, Clay Jenkins and Bijon Watson trade trumpet choruses for a while, then indulge in some free-form together. The only trumpeter not on the last piece, charter member Snooky Young (85 years old at the time of the recording and still going strong today at 86) has a muted solo on the slow-paced “Like a Lover”. Co-founder Jeff Clayton has a nice soprano saxophone solo on this piece. The rest of the ten minutes, before Young and after Clayton is ensemble work and just fades away.
    Sonny Stitt’s bebop classic “Eternal Triangle” gets a real workout beginning with Lee Callet’s baritone solo, followed by alto solos by Keith Fiddmont and Jeff Clayton, then tenor solos by Woodward and Owens. Hamilton’s drums then drive the ensemble to the end. “Squatty Roo” was one of Johnny Hodges’ many nicknames with Duke Ellington’s orchestra and he wrote a piece by that title. Woodward takes the first solo on tenor, followed by Bohanon’s trombone and Jenkins’ trumpet.Hendelman then takes a piano solo, Castellanos has a triple-tonguing trumpet solo and Hamilton’s drums wrap it up.
    This is one of the best big bands in the country, with one of the best arrangers (John Clayton) and one of the best big band drummers (Jeff Hamilton), along with some great soloists. Put that together with an appreciative audience and you have a real winner. The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra Live at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild.

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