Review: Gerald Clayton expands musical horizons

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Photo -   This CD cover image released by Concord Jazz shows "Life Forum," by Gerald Clayton. (AP Photo/Concord Jazz)
This CD cover image released by Concord Jazz shows "Life Forum," by Gerald Clayton. (AP Photo/Concord Jazz)
Entertainment,Theater

Gerald Clayton, "Life Forum" (Concord Jazz)

Pianist Gerald Clayton is an emerging jazz star — the son of renowned Los Angeles-based bassist John Clayton and nephew of saxophonist Jeff Clayton — who believes that "tradition and innovation can peacefully co-exist."

Clayton's first two albums as a leader — trio sessions with drummer Justin Brown and bassist Joe Sanders playing a mix of standards and originals — both received Grammy nominations. On "Life Forum," the classically trained pianist emphasizes his own compositions, expanding his musical horizons by augmenting his trio with three horn players and two vocalists.

The result is a stylistically diverse collection conveying a range of moods. Gretchen Parlato's ethereal, wordless vocals help carry the melody on "Deep Dry Ocean," while Sachal Vasandani's airy vocals are featured on "Dusk Baby," with Dayna Stephens adding a smooth tenor sax solo. Ambrose Akinmusire's angular trumpet solo adds punch to "Some Always" with its shifting dynamics.

The closer "When an Angel Sheds a Feather" — which begins as a relaxed ballad with Clayton sensitively accompanying the vocalists before concluding with a swinging drumless instrumental — reflects the musician's maturity as an innovative composer rooted in the jazz tradition.

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