Friday, May 6, 2011

New Jazz for You - Gerald Clayton, Adam Cruz, and Jeremy Udden's Plainville

Gerald Clayton - Bond: The Paris Sessions (Decca)

Clayton is a new breed of young lion. As the youngest in a prominent jazz family (his father John is a bassist and bandleader and uncle Jeff plays reeds), Gerald has prodigious chops and an intimate relationship with jazz tradition. But he's no brooding neoclassicist. If his wild dreds and long tie-with-jeans getup don't make that clear, his music certainly will.

Lookin' sharp, Gerald
Clayton's new album "Bond: The Paris Sessions" opens with the cliched standard "If I Were a Bell." It's a move that would seemingly send younger listeners packing, but Clayton pulls it off with a slick little groove that allows him to phrase the melody in unexpected ways. Bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Justin Brown relish the space in between Clayton's chords, bathing the tune in quiet busyness. In just under 8 minutes, the trio presents a fresh and urbane view of jazz that updates oft-used methods with a distinct rhythmic crackle.

With this emphasis on rhythm, it makes sense that the trio has a thing for vamps. Almost every tune has one, allowing the band to show off its immense vocabulary of rhythmic tricks. All three musicians are under 30, but they've been playing with each other in various groups since their teenage years. They know each others' tendencies so well that they seem to communicate in a tri-composed monologue rather than a friendly conversation. While the album's emotional gamut runs only from pensive to cool, there's a lot to enjoy - Sanders' effortless counter-lines, Brown's snappy snare accents, Clayton's deft touch. Gerald Clayton's city-slick jazz has a vital pulse and plenty of avenues left to explore.

"Bond: The Paris Sessions" comes out on May 10

Adam Cruz - Milestone (Sunnyside) 

Gerald Clayton has now produced two full-length albums before his 27th birthday. On the other hand, drummer Adam Cruz has taken quite a bit longer just to get through one (he's just over 40). That doesn't mean Cruz isn't one of the busiest musicians in New York. Cruz is one in-demand sideman, playing with the jazz-famous likes of saxophonist Chris Potter, pianist Danilo Perez, and the almost-actually-famous Chick Corea. Cruz can lay down swing, funk, and Latin grooves (plus any combination thereof) with equal aplomb, but has yet to step out as a bandleader and composer until now.

Cruz doing what he does best - just layin' it down
The results on his appropriately-named debut "Milestone" are mixed at best. It's not because of a lack of musicianship - Cruz has assembled a crack band including Potter, MacArthur-winning saxophonist Miguel Zenon, versatile guitar ace Steve Cardenas, and Cruz's longtime rhythmic foil Ben Street on bass. The performances are all solid, but lack a certain spark. It has all the hallmarks of the past decade's mainstream jazz - driving Latin-ish vamps, knotty melodies, complex non-functional harmonies, lots of room for the soloists to blow.

Although Cruz's chameleon-like flexibility and unyielding tastefulness make him an ideal supporting actor, they're a bit of a liability now that he's taken a leading role. He lets his partners be themselves, instead of challenging them with new musical contexts in which to improvise. Though many of the tunes have multiple sections, few have an engaging and dramatic arc. There certainly are some good moments on the album, like the sax battle on "Gadfly" and Cardenas' tropical pluckings on "Outer Reaches." Unfortunately, the compositions can't sustain the momentum of these moments, yielding an album that sounds surprisingly typical.

"Milestone" was released on April 12

Jeremy Udden's Plainville - If the Past Seems So Bright (Sunnyside)

If Brooklyn has been too-oft described as a musical Eden with diverse genres sharing the same lush pastures, its only because the myth is too often confirmed by yet another great genre-blowing album from a Brooklynite. This month's album is "If the Past Seems So Bright" from the saxophonist Jeremy Udden and his band Plainville.

Udden and the gang in action
No matter who your favorite hipster band is, you'll find something to like here. Wilco fans will fawn over the layered electronic pianos and distorted guitars. Disaffected Sufjanistas will go giddy at the sound of gently arpeggiated banjos. Fleet Foxes fanatics will float along with the gently harmonized folk melodies.

But "If the Past..." isn't great because of its similarities to good 'n folksy indie rock. It's more like it's great despite those similarities. It's not like, you know... hmm... some... exhilarating pastiche. Instead, Plainville has a strong musical identity that melds the disparate personalities of its members into a sturdy whole. Udden has a pleasing, woody tone on his various saxophones, imbuing the simple melodies with vocal honesty. Guitarist/banjoist Brandon Seabrook and keyboardist Pete Rende create a rustic and immersive soundscape, using a color palette of diverse instruments and effects pedals. And all along, bassist Elvind Opsvik and drummer R.J. Miller ground the music in a time feel that breathes with perfectly-placed imperfections.

The album is bracingly analog, a blurred photograph, a letter from your ancestor, so real you can taste it. The stark opening drum beats transport you to a world of deep memory, and you remain there long after the last guitar fades.

"If the Past Seems So Bright" comes out on May 31.

No comments:

Post a Comment