Live Jazz: The Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

By Tony Gieske

When the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra starts a set, John Clayton likes to have it sound a strong — never loud — chord that is shockingly  lovely and foreshadows the rich and sonorous banquet of sound that is about to be served up.

This he did at Vibrato Tuesday, and the night went on in this exact way, full of top flight soloists, and top flight charts and touchingly terrific tuttis.

First earful was “Captain Bill,” which sounded suspiciously like “One O’Clock Jump.”  That might lead you to believe that Captain Bill was a nom de big band for Count Basie, whose theme it was, and who liked to wear a nautical cap and whose name was William.  But it was just a fine little chart by Ray Brown.

Former Poncho Sanchez trumpeter Sal Cracchiolo got his teeth into a burning bunch of bebop on this provenance heavy piece, and the fleet baritone sax player Lee Callet didn’t do bad either.

Horace Tapscott, the too-seldom celebrated South Los Angeles band leader, was honored with a piece featuring alumnus Charles Owens on soprano saxophone.  Owens played a trill — or was it a grace note? — over and over again for 32 bars while using circular breathing.  Except for this, his improvisation was exemplary.

The legendary trombonist George Bohannon spread his rippling icing across a slow ballad during the spaces when the flutes and mutes of John Clayton’s celebrated sound palette were not elevating the humble pop foundation.

Graham Dechter, a reasonably fresh face on the teeming local guitar scene, played several reasonably fresh sounding solos, notably on “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But the Blues.”  Here he was able to maintain a superslow groove without any dead spots and a well-maintained sense of swing.  He’s got a nice, warm sound that’s juicy and delicious as an apple.

Co-leader Jeff Hamilton linked up with Dechter in his dauntless drum fashion, and with bassist Christopher Luty and pianist Tamir Hendelman they provided a firm, unstoppable foundation that Basie might have envied.  Hamilton also supplied one of his renowned solo passages with the brushes as Dechter’s gaze followed every nuance from the adjoining chair.

John Clayton in action

And if your ears were thus oversupplied, there was food for the eye in the expressive gestures of the other co-leader as he danced in his inspirational way in front of the whole wonderful band.

Photos by Tony Gieske.  Read and see more of Tony’s jazz essays and photos at his personal web site tonyspage.com.

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