Gerald Clayton – Tributary Tales (Motéma)
Tributary Tales is an apt title for the most accomplished and adventurous album yet from pianist Gerald Clayton, a scion of SoCal jazz royalty. The music is forever moving, riding streams of intriguing, pleasing sounds — ambling grooves, burrowing piano solos and colorful and often unpredictable multi-saxophone lines. All are tributaries of a highly personal music that’s clearly drawn from jazz tradition but headed in new, unexpected directions. It’s brainy, yes, but heavy on emotional content, too.
“Soul Stomp” exemplifies this collection of original compositions, all written and arranged by Clayton. The track opens with a playful piano figure and oozing organ. Then a modified R&B groove kicks in under a swaying melody provided by saxophonists Logan Richardson on alto and Ben Wendel on tenor. Clayton’s searching piano improvisation follows, as do sections featuring alternating sax solos, Joe Sanders’ bowed-bass figures, large-ensemble swells and a return to the theme.
Tumbling, hyperactive percussion underscores the elongated, twisting sax lines of “Unforeseen,” the album’s opener, while “A Light” thrives on dizzying bebop sax figures fueled by Justin Brown’s groove-digging urban trap-kit propulsion. The silky, large-ensemble textures of “Lovers Reverie” provide a bed for the expressive spoken-word incantations of Aja Monet and Carl Hancock Rux; the two reprise their roles on the pensive closer, “Dimensions: Interwoven.”
Dayna Stephens’ baritone sax adds a chunky bottom to the slippery themes and solos of “Wakeful,” and Sachal Vasandani’s wordless vocals lend an exotic aura to the multi-hued “Squinted.” For extra measure, Clayton offers several short, improvised pieces. All are integral to an album-length journey that feels like a natural segue from 2013’s Life Forum, if worlds away from 2009’s Two-Shade, Clayton’s debut (a trio recording with Brown and Sanders). Tributary Tales presents a fresh chapter in a brilliant career.
— Philip Booth