Jazz at Alverno Presents
Gerald Clayton has become a leading young light in jazz since Alverno booked him over a year ago.
When Alverno Presents impresario David Ravel introduced the Gerald Clayton Trio on Friday, he said it was difficult to anticipate the zeitgeist of a performance when booking an act a year or more in advance.
Ravel said he couldn’t have predicted that Clayton would be releasing his third CD, Life Forum, this very week and that it would result in reviews placing him among the very best of his generation of young jazz pianists.
But as prescient as Ravel has proven to be booking other up and coming acts, it didn’t take ESP to recognize that Clayton was worth a night on Alverno’s Wehr Auditorium stage. Clayton was born to be a jazzman, the son of bass player John Clayton and the nephew of saxophonist Jeff Clayton.
Ravel also couldn’t have been surprised that the trio would attract an enthusiastic local audience, since Clayton’s trio includes bassist Joe Sanders, a 2001 graduate of the Milwaukee High School of the Arts. When Clayton’s introduction of Sanders generated a burst of enthusiastic applause, Clayton joked that the hometown response just wasn’t fair.
But enough with the bio, musicians can only go so far on their bloodlines, they are ultimately judged by their ability to perform. Friday, Clayton, Sanders and drummer Justin Brown delivered the goods.
The three played several cuts from the new CD as well as a number of other pieces that showed off their talent and teamwork. Each took turns with solos but they were at their very best when playing off each other.
The soft spoken Clayton kept his remarks brief and spoke through his piano playing in a strong and confident voice. At times he was clearly in the lead and set the tone for the others; at times he responded to the playing of Sanders and Brown.
Sanders also demonstrated that he was comfortable taking charge of the action; both in solos and along with the others. Brown’s playing was more than competent but even during his solo he seemed less willing to spread his wings than his partners.
The trio’s performance was strongly grounded in the traditional jazz sound, with some hints of experimentation here and there. This appears to be a group of musicians worth paying attention to in the years ahead. They are scheduled to appear in Madison tonight and at New York’s Village Vanguard later this month.
Next up at Alverno Presents: Cedar Block: May the Schwartz Be With You, April 20.
Do listen to Clayton’s exquisite take on “If I Were a Bell”: