Deservedly rising in public consciousness and critical acclaim from its West Coast cultish following, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra (CHJO) possesses a quality that distinguishes it from other big bands: an unforced inherent swing. Taking a cue from Basie minimalism combined with a hard drive, CHJO can’t help but ooze blues from every beat and every measure. The composition “Shout Me Out” assumes a Hefti-ish heavily accented anticipation of the beat, a la “Li’l Darling.” “Plunger Mute Syndrome,” once again a blues, arranges for an alternating brass-and-sax give-and-take as Basie piano tickles fill the fourth measures, just before 22-year-old trombone wunderkind Isaac Smith goes gutbucket with astounding results. On “Nice To Meet You,” pianist Bill Cunliffe introduces the tune with a signature Basie-like single-note improvisation, backed by Jim Hershman’s Freddie Green-like rhythm guitar, Christoph Luty’s walking bass and Jeff Hamilton’s lightly prodding drumwork.
Just as the listener thinks that CHJO captures and retains the spirit of Basie, the band includes an original ballad, “Yellow Flowers After,” that transforms the band’s exuberance into an expression of loss akin to “I Remember Clifford.” Charles Owens’ lilting remembrance of his friend on “One For Horace Tapscott” reworks a fairly simple phrase into a soaring soprano sax flight supported elegantly by Bill Cunliffe and Jeff Hamilton before the band intensifies the feeling through crescendo and extended climax.
After ten big band arrangements that inspire the individual musicians to a high degree of unity and personalized solos, the biggest surprise is the conclusion: John Clayton’s virtuosity on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “How Insensitive,” the nuances of Clayton’s style accented by Hamilton’s sensitive percussive like-mindedness.
Shout Me Out; Max; Plunger Mute Syndrome; Yellow Flowers After; Grizzly; Day By Day; Nice To Meet You; One For Horace Tapscott; Barbara’s Rose; I Want A Little Girl; How Insensitive
John Clayton, Jr., arco bass; Jeff Clayton, alto sax, flute, oboe, piccolo; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Bijon Watson, “Snooky” Young, Oscar Brashear, Clay Jenkins, Bobby Rodriguez, trumpet; Ira Nepus, Geoge Bohanon, Isaac Smith, Maurice Spears, trombone; Keith Fiddmont, alto sax, clarinet; Rickey Woodard, tenor sax, clarinet; Charles Owens, soprano & tenor sax, clarinet; Lee Callet, baritone sax & bass clarinet; Bill Cunliffe, piano; Jim Hershman, guitar; Christoph Luty, bass