Having caught Gerald Clayton's trio with guest Logan Richardson at this year's Vienne jazz festival I was anxious to grab this CD especially as it also features trumpet "man of the moment" Ambrose Akinmusire in the line up and the brilliant Gretchen Parlato. The gig was one of this year's highlights and reaffirmed my perception that Gerald Clayton is a breath of fresh air as far as jazz piano is concerned. I'm a big fan. However, this record transpires to be something wholly different and anyone expecting a more outside offering with a number of exciting horn players need might be disappointed. In many respects, this effort is very similar to an album like Carla Bley's "Night glo" from the early 80's where some impressive writing was masked by a kind of easy listening / middle of the road approach to jazz.
Like Carla Bley's album, there are some great moments and plenty of evidence that Clayton is not only a refined and lyric pianist of note but also a composer of some ability. Certainly, this offering demonstrates that he has a great ear for a strong melody. There are moments where the music does bristle - the piano / trumpet unison passages on "Some always" is terrific and the piano playing is as wonderful as you would expect from Clayton. The caveat is that the horn players get very little solo space or opportunity to stretch out and are only used on a proportion of tracks to showcase the piano in an arrangement. The opening track with the poem is pretty risable and the tracks where Clayton is unwise enough to sing make you wish that he had brought someone else in to the studio to do the songs justice. It is almost as is Clayton wants to re-shape his contemporary jazz approach in to a pop record.
I don't think this is a bad record and it is certainly a recording that might attract listeners from outside jazz. Fans of piano jazz will obviously appreciate Clayton's great playing but anyone who has heard Gerald Clayton perform live and seen what he can do might be disappointed by this effort which seems to be more about snazzy production values than matching some of the more creative music that Akinmusire and his ilk have produced under the guidance of more "outside" leaders like michel Portal or David Binney. "Life Forum" is a nice album yet but for the great piano playing and impressive writing and strong melodies, you might be temnpted to write it off completely. It is just a bit too polite for my palette. Whilst the result is a million miles away from "Smooth jazz", this is a record which is touched by Concord's more commercial approach and perhaps not really representative of how the artists performs live. All in all, this record is good at what it does but not as good as it should be.
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