Life Forum (Concord Jazz)
Released April 2, 2013
Grammy Nominee for Best Jazz Instrumental Album 2014
Pianist Gerald Clayton is an artist who does not work in a vacuum. Clayton is recognized by peers and public alike to hungrily seek opportunities which allow for creative musical exchanges with other artists. And he understands that any successful artistic venture requires listening as much as expressing, open-mindedness as well as respect for the input of others. It requires leadership and, most importantly, demands a shared love for the art form and each other. Clayton understands that these are the conditions that create a forum for something truly magical to emerge.
Clayton’s recording, Life Forum, testifies to these values.
As Clayton states, “From everyone’s high level of musicality, open ears, creativity and love for one another has emerged a product that is so much more than the sum of its parts.” He adds, “This record is about gathering my favorite musicians and giving them the best platform to explore and openly express themselves. I take the same concepts and values that lead to creative expression as a credo to live by, hence Life Forum.”
Clayton considers Life Forum possibly his most ambitious album to date, which is no small claim considering the artistic and commercial success of Two Shade, his Grammy-nominated 2009 debut album, followed by the equally acclaimed 2011 – also Grammy-nominated – Bond: The Paris Sessions (he received a third nomination in 2012 for his composition, Battle Circle, written for The Clayton Brothers). “I am writing more now than I have ever done before,” he says. “Working with a larger ensemble for this album meant a great deal of preparation. Ben Wendel, who produced the record, was extremely helpful. I really admire his playing and his writing, so I knew I would value his musical feedback. He and I got together prior to the sessions to talk in detail about the music and map out exactly what needed to happen and at what time during the recording session. Organizationally, and in terms of the writing involved, creating this album was much more demanding than my previous records.”
And yet, Life Forum seems so effortless, from the very first title track that leads off the set? supported by the powerful musical undercurrent provided by the musicians, Carl Hancock Rux’s spoken word performance describes Life Forum as, “This is the map, old paths to new dangers, a place for passion reserved, for brief touches, for remembering love diminished, for freedom…”
The subsequent track “Future Reflection” rides a wave that is slightly more up-tempo and intense, with Parlato and Vasandani delivering an ephemeral chant above the persistent interplay between Clayton’s trio and the three horn players.
In the impressionistic “Sir Third,” the spaces between the notes seem to matter as much as the notes themselves. Demonstrating the trio’s now famous chemistry and cohesiveness, we witness them working as if taking a collective solo while still maintaining the groove.
“Dusk Baby” starts off as a gentle solo piano ballad with atmospheric lyrics delivered expertly by Vasandani’s light-as-a-feather vocal style. Midway through, Brown and saxophonist Dayna Stephens conjure up an energetic interlude, then step back to allow piano and vocal to finish out the track.
“Mao Nas Massa” combines a lighthearted piano melody with a persistent drum pattern. Conjuring up the feeling of a Brazilian samba, this song demonstrates the beauty of casual interplay between the two musicians.
“Some Always” packs enough brass and rhythmic punch to classify as an “anthem.” Clayton comments: “I worked on that for a while, just coming up with different voicings for that melody,” he says. “There is a recurring melody throughout the whole song, with solos being played on top. I also wrote a solo section where Ambrose and I play a single-note solo together. That was a new approach for me.” This is definitely a track which stands out.
“When an Angel Sheds a Feather,” a vocal duet with Parlato and Vasandani, is everything the title suggests – otherworldly and lighter than air. Clayton’s accompaniment provides a musical cushion for the voices, supporting their melodies with lush colors and tantalizing lines. Vasandani’s lyric is appropriately tender and beautiful. “All of my projects are personal,” says Clayton and Life Forum is his most recent and arguably most revealing to date. “All of the tunes in this collection are my originals and are inspired by events in my life, especially by love and life transitions. It was my intention that these very personally inspired compositions would provide a forum for a group of amazingly creative artists to express themselves in a spirit of freedom, open mindedness and harmony. All life experiences and interactions offer us the chance for the development of tolerance, love, honesty, compassion and acceptance. Personally, the creation of this album has been an extraordinary opportunity for growth.”
1. A Life Forum (Gerald Clayton / Carl Hancock Rux) 2:52
2. Future Reflection (Gerald Clayton) 4:52
3. Shadamanthem (Gerald Clayton) 6:37
4. Sir Third (Gerald Clayton) 4:18
5. Deep Dry Ocean (Gerald Clayton) 5:27
6. Dusk Baby (Gerald Clayton / Sachal Vasandani) 5:39
7. Mao Nas Massa (Gerald Clayton) 4:47
8. Prelude (Gerald Clayton) 0:59
9. Some Always (Gerald Clayton) 5:37
10. Like Water (Gerald Clayton) 5:16
11. Unhidden (Gerald Clayton) 3:57
12. When an Angel Sheds a Feather (Gerald Clayton / Sachal Vasandani) 9:28
Gerald Clayton: piano, Fender Rhodes, organ, vocals
Gretchen Parlato: vocals
Sachal Vasandani: vocals
Logan Richardson: alto saxophone
Dayna Stephens: tenor saxophone
Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet
Joe Sanders: bass
Justin Brown: drums
Carl Hancock Rux: spoken word
Recorded October 1 – 3, 2012, at Sear Sound, New York, NY
Produced by Ben Wendel
Co-Producer: Gerald Clayton
Executive Producer: Chris Dunn
Engineer: Ted Tuthill
Assistant Engineer: Owen Mulholland
Mixing: Seth Presant
Mastering: Paul Blakemore
Gerald Clayton switches up his game on this thrilling disc. He ups the conceptual ante and widens his sonic palette to include trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, saxophonists Logan Richardson and Dayna Stephens, and singers Gretchen Parlato and Sachal Vasandani. Immediately you sense the explicit new direction on the somber opening cut, “A Life Forum,” which features spoken-word artist Carl Hancock Rux spewing some philosophical ruminations about breaking through the ho-hums of everyday life and embracing the moment. Clayton wraps Rux’s ominous baritone voice with stark brass and vocal harmonies that unravel a luxurious melody, faintly recalling Herbie Hancock’s late Blue Note composition “I Have a Dream.” Once Clayton’s regular rhythm section (bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Justin Brown) lifts the music with a pneumatic buoyancy, the leader showcases his impressionistic approach to melody and piano improvisation. In all, the title track makes for a promising beginning.
Sure enough, Clayton delivers on that promise with the driving second composition, “Future Reflection,” notable for its charging horn and voice charts, zigzagging passages and Clayton’s suspenseful yet well-paced solo. The same sort of exhilarating sweep appears on “Some Always” and “Shadamanthem.” In other places, the music either quells-allowing listeners greater opportunity to focus on Clayton’s piano mastery, as on the quicksilver trio outing “Sir Third”-or decelerates, as on the glowing “Dusk Baby,” featuring Vasandani’s sanguine vocals.
The disc closes with the same gist of eminence, with the stark ballad “When an Angel Sheds a Feather,” featuring a bracing duet between Vasandani and Parlato, followed by a swinging hidden track enlivened by Stephens’ fantastic tenor work. Life Forumsignals a new chapter in Clayton’s still-early career as a leader, especially in terms of his compositional reach. And it suggests that there are even greater things to come.
John Murph (JazzTimes)