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Published: 2012/12/20
by Brian Robbins

The Clayton Brothers
The Gathering

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The first six seconds of “Friday Struttin’” – the opening cut on the Clayton Brothers’ new album The Gathering – are all you have to hear to be hooked. A jaunty bumbledy-bump down the neck of John Clayton’s bass is quickly answered by a similarly-paced ripple of his son Gerald’s piano, followed by a snap across the top of Obed Calvaire’s drums; the elder Clayton responds with another bass burst; Gerald catches it, tossing it over to Calvaire; another round of bass/piano/drums and –_bang_ – they’re off and running. That playful vibe is all over The Gathering with the Clayton’s core band (John and Gerald, along with John’s brother Jeff on saxophone and flute; dummer Calvaire; Terell Stafford on trumpet and flugelhorn) and their guests (Wycliffe Gordon on trombone and Stefon Harris on vibraphone) playing off each other in an array of moods and settings.

Witness the remainder of “Friday Struttin’”: once the ensemble has established the tune’s all-agrin theme, the real fun begins. It’s easy enough to imagine the group in a circle as the jam is passed around: Jeff Clayton blows angular sound shapes on his sax before letting it morph into a smooth, bluesy pudding; Gordon’s muscular trombone enters on graceful tiptoes before letting fly with a bit of joyous raunch; Stafford makes a clear-toned opening statement on his trumpet before launching into wild-ass blowing of his own. Gerald Clayton’s piano grounds the jam without taming it – beautiful roundabouts of ideas that he shapes and reshapes, working the keyboard masterfully. The band comes back together to bat a few into the backfield, where Calvaire and John Clayton make the deep catches and offer up their own bits of groove. One more statement by Gerald and then the band takes it home; “Friday Struttin’” is mixed to a fade with just the grins hanging in the air. Oh, yeah.

Time after time throughout The Gathering the Claytons and their guests pull off a sense of edginess and chance-taking while keeping the mood upbeat and never leaving an idea unresolved. The chaotic moments of “Tsunami” are balanced by its overall feeling of hope. “Somealways” is full of late-night ponderings by Gerald Clayton, but there are the beginnings of a sunrise in the final moments. John’s bass ushers in the heavy mists of “Touch The Fog”; Harris’ vibes saturate everything with their glow.

“This Ain’t Nothing But A Party” rocks like a cut off of the Les McCann/Eddie Harris classic Swiss Movement (Gordon’s trombone is definitely the big coal-burner of this particular crazy train); “Stefon Fetchin’ It” is as advertised – phew! ; so is the album-closing “The Happiest Of Times” – the perfect ending to an album full of the sounds of jazz masters having fun.

All in all, The Gathering is like a big bowl of jazz-flavored comfort food – easy to just sit down and burrow into. There are no challenges to the listener: the Clayton Brothers and their friends took care of all of those in fine fashion. Just dig in.

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