First I’d like to quickly apologize for being absent from blogging for so long. The exciting and intoxicating challenges of leading a growing company means I have less time for other pleasurable endeavours, but it won’t keep me away forever. With that, lets ease back into genYchina.com with a review of Gerald Clayton.
In the past year that I’ve had Gerald Clayton in my playlist, there are countless times that I’ve heard his songs and had to flip through my iTunes to check who it is. Every time I expect it to be Robert Glasper, because their playing styles are very similar — lyrical, light and elegant, yet with deep-seeded funk and soul driving the course of their musical compositions. While Robert Glasper uses a lot of hip-hop and RnB elements in many of his jazz-fusion pieces, Gerald Clayton utilizes a traditional jazz ensembles but can still capture the same rhythm and blues attitude we’ve come to know and love.
It doesn’t surprise me therefore, that Gerald Clayton, a Jazz Pianist, has for some years been a fixture in Roy Hargrove‘s quintets. Roy Hargrove has been one of the main stalwarts of Jazz-Funk and Jazz-Soul fusion for over 10 years with both the RH Factor and his Quintet. Gerald Clayton toured with Hargrove’s Quintet throughout the 2006-2007 seasons and was the pianist in Hargrove’s 2008 ‘Earfood’ album. I am sure these were important formative years for Gerald Clayton and did a lot in forming his sound today.
I believe the ‘Earfood’ album was when I first noticed Gerald Clayton. If I go back to that album I am sure we would find a few tracks that showcase some exquisite piano playing.
Clayton’s edginess is matched and rounded-out by his deliciously intricate playing. Growing up trained in classical music, he brings the full breadth of his repertoire and experience into his jazz music. His 2006 work on two Diana Krall albums may have brought good seasoning to this side of his sound.
What is even more impressive is Clayton’s youth. Graduating with a bachelors of Arts from USC Thorton School of Music in 2006, at the age of 27 Clayton already has 2 albums under his own name. He’s already garnered 2 Grammy nominations, one for the song “All of You” on Clayton’s 2009 ‘Two-Shade’ album, and another for his work in “Battle Circle” on the 2010 ‘The New Song and Dance’ album from his father and uncle’s band, The Clayton Brothers. While Gerald Clayton’s first grammy win eludes him, it is obvious that it is an inevitability. Gerald Clayton is defining himself as one of the leading figures in this new generation of Jazz.
I’m still working through Gerald Clayton’s newest album, ‘Bond: The Paris Sessions’ released earlier this year, but what I’m hearing so far is a continued maturation of Gerald’s sound; drawing on his classical piano training, he is wisely being patient with his compositions, letting them simmer and ripen at their own pace. Clayton is not afraid of the nakedness of raw, articulate jazz. Instead, he boldly fills the space with unwavering, refined, independent piano that demands your attention and respect. At each moment you can hear he is in complete control, and is aggressively driving you, the listener, to meet him at the middle in the world he is creating.
I’m thoroughly impressed by this young pianist and have already gained hours of enjoyment from his music. I have nothing but continued high hopes and expectations for what is to come.
‘Yesterday You Said Tomorrow’ came out earlier this year to much anticipation and fanfare around the world. Christian Scott, the Grammy-nominated boy wonder who took the jazz community by storm with his 2006 album ‘Rewind That’, this year came out with his 4th album in five years.
Scott, since the last time I wrote about him, has been hard at work creating new music and gaining priceless experience touring. Scott’s last album, a live recording of his concert at the 2008 Newport Jazz Festival, was solid and provides a more raw experience of his work and sound. But I feel this year’s ‘Yesterday You Said Tomorrow’ is the rightful continuation of Christian Scott’s journey last visited in 2007’s Anthem.
Seven of the ten tracks on this album have titles that try to elicit sharp commentaries about hotly debated issues in American politics and society. Songs like “The Roe Effect”, “American’t”, “Jencide”, and “Angola, LA & The 13th Amendment” are examples of this. While the album ‘Anthem’ was fiercely angry, crying out in anguish and pain, ‘Yesterday You Said Tomorrow’ has internalized this grief much more. You can clearly feel that the same feelings of frustration are present in this new album, but they are now coming from a much deeper place, and have shifted Scott’s music to be more muted, more reserved, more pensive. But I feel this album has even more energy than ‘Anthem’ if that is all possible. I think what I am hearing is evermore maturity coming from Christian’s horn.
The music, as it has since Scott’s first album, signifies another step forward in the sound of contemporary Jazz. He takes every opportunity to display his “Whisper Technique”, a distinct breathy, airy, hazy effect on his sound. Scott is said to have perfected this technique over the past couple of years, and found his breakthrough when trying to mimic the sound of his horn to the sound of his mother’s voice. The “Whisper Technique” is also accentuated by Scott’s custom-designed, custom-made trumpet, nicknamed “Katrina”. To elevate this whispering sound, Scott’s music is dark, deep, and moody, the perfect atmosphere to envelope an eerie, whispering lyric.
Christian Scott’s music is rich in deep, tonal hues. It is, admittedly, very impressionistic of Miles Davis’ earlier era, though with very contemporary arches. One of these contemporary pillars is Matt Stevens’ guitar work. Having been with Scott since the beginning, these two have matured their sound together, and have almost become two halves of a whole. Pay attention to Matt on each of the tracks he plays on.
My favourite songs on this album are: American’t, Isadora, and most of all, The Eraser. There is an edginess to these songs that is so deliciously subtle. The songs move forward at a hypnotic pace, and I often find myself swaying back and forth or nodding relentlessly to the onslaught of their tight tempo. These songs make my forehead frown in concentration. I am exhilarated.
Over the past couple of years I”ve been attracted to the progressive sounds of the electric guitar as it has been one of the more defining voices of contemporary jazz in the past couple decades. Lately though, I”ve found myself listening and buying more albums from jazz pianists. Similar to my last jazz review of Rober Glasper, a pianist from the US, today I”m writing about Hiromi Uehara, a pianist from Japan.
At the age of 31, Hiromi is still a toddler in Jazz-years, but her accomplishments already show she will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the most accomplished jazz musicians of the modern era. Starting piano at the age of 5 and introduced to jazz at the age of 8, Hiromi played with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra at the age of 14 and played & recorded with Chick Corea, one of the leading jazz pianists of our time, at the age of 17. Talk about a great start to a career. She went on to study under Ahmad Jamal, another of Jazz Piano”s great”s, while at Berklee. Since 2003, she has been touring the world with her trio, sometimes quartet, and has released 6 albums under her name and 2 DVDs. She”s only 31!!!
There is a reason why she is already so decorated. Listen to her Music. Just listen to it. Every single song an intimate masterpiece in its own right. Thoroughly trained in the Classical tradition, you can the heritage and structured theory in her music. It is almost unbelievable that her sound is only a trio/quartet, when in fact it does often sound like an entire orchestral composition. Her music is colossal. I think it is a pleasurable by-product of those Jazz composers that try to utilize more of their classical roots in their music, very much like Brad Mehldau.
Hiromi still keeps it swinging though. She plays with a ferocity and fire that only comes from a jazz syncopation. But her swing is one that is very rare in the jazz world. While many contemporary jazz greats, like Roy Hargrove, Christian McBride, Esperanza Spalding, push the boundaries of jazz style, jazz theology, jazz rhetoric, Hiromi pushes the boundaries of jazz”s definition. The only apt metaphor I can think of is from Visual Arts: Hargrove, McBride, Spalding are like Impressionists, Cubists and Surrealists while Hiromi is like an abstract expressionist. The first group explores and redefines the subject matter in new dimensions, while the latter explores the medium itself.
It is such a pleasure to listen to each of Hiromi”s songs. Each one is fundamentally different than the last, in a different paradigm, on a different plane of existence than the last. Hiromi is deeply intrigued by time signatures and musical space. I am guessing this is the direct influence from Ahmad Jamal. Her 2006 album ”Spiral” and 2007 album ”Time Control” are wonderful examples of her exploration in this area.
Yet, within all of this structural experimentalism, Hiromi is extremely lyrical. I think that is probably what holds all her music together so tightly. She presents to you with a lyrical quest to follow while she challenges you to absorb & engage the redefinitions she places around you. Whenever I play her music, I cannot help but stop whatever else I am doing and just exercise my mind and ears. It is mesmerizing work for both the performer and listener.
One final thought I want to tack onto Hiromi”s post. For all you jazz fans out there, if you have never been to Japan, and Tokyo in particular, GO. It is a jazz lover”s fantasy. I am not totally sure about the clear figures, but Japan represents either the #1 or at the very least the #2 jazz market in the world. Its the reason why so many jazz musicians intentionally build their tours to include Japan when they release a new album. Its the reason why Bluenote jazz clubs, the most successful jazz club franchise, at one time had 4 jazz clubs in Japan versus only 2 in the US. But what is more important, is the density of jazz and real jazz lovers in Japan. With America, even in New York, jazz competes with so many other native and popular music forms like hip hop, pop, electronica. Europe, while loving jazz has a deep obsession with classical and electronica. But for some reason, and I think it is the Japanese”s attraction to technical excellence and complex hierarchy, they have since the second world war, fallen head over heels for Jazz. While they also deeply cherish Classical and many other musical forms like hip hop and electronica, Jazz has captured a much larger portion of the listener”s ear. And as is typical of Japanese culture, when they like something, they get obsessively passionate, geeky, and hardcore about it. Walking on the streets of Tokyo I can often find boxes of second-hand classic jazz vinyls on sale, or their record shops have huge sections dedicated to jazz. Jazz artists, even those that are minor names in North America, have significant followings in Japan and Jazz concerts in Japan command a higher price-point and sell out more often.
With this kind of incubative atmosphere, is it such a surprise that a musical genius like Hiromi Uehara can be identified at such an early age as a jazz prodigy and be so intentionally cultivated to her extreme level?
Listen to her music. Hear and feel jazz at its most refined.