Monday, March 31, 2014


The unimpeachable authority, glorious sonic sheen and sheer passion of a first-class jazz big band can offer a listening experience unmatched on the American music scene. The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra has upheld the tradition of the expansive, ever swinging jazz ensemble for some three decades now; with The L.A. Treasures Project (Capri Records, released on April 15, 2014) the band not only reaffirms its reputation, but also honors two icons of West Coast jazz: guest vocalists Ernie Andrews and Barbara Morrison. With co-leaders John Clayton (arco bass, arranger, conductor), brother Jeff Clayton (woodwinds), and Jeff Hamilton (drums) at the helm, the CHJO takes on a meaty program of timeless standards, sturdy blues and appealing originals with featured turns by Andrews and Morrison on eight of the thirteen tracks. 

Romping through such classics as "Exactly Like You," "River's Invitation," "Fever" and "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You," the CHJO displays the airtight precision and remarkable vitality that has exemplified the band since its debut in 1985. The inclusion of Andrews and Morrison - two West coast stalwarts still in vocal prime - ratchets up the excitement and intensity that much more. In its forthright demonstration of the pleasures of timeless swing, The L.A. Treasures Project is as representative an album as Capri Records - a bastion of contemporary mainstream jazz - could have hoped to release as it celebrates its thirtieth anniversary.

Recorded live at Alvas Showroom in San Pedro, California, on September 15, 2013, the album turns the spotlight on a world class ensemble and an array of its star soloists, including the saxophonists Rickey Woodard and Charles Owens, who do battle on the album's explosive finale, "Jazz Party"; the guitarist Graham Dechter who pours sweet licks over "I Ain't Got Nothin' But the Blues"; the trombonists George Bohanon, Ryan Porter, Maurice Spears and Ira Nepus who add virtuosic sass to "I Love Being Here with You"; and co-leader John Clayton who takes a stirring arco bass turn on "Goodbye Porkpie Hat." Jeff Hamilton, a percussion master and L.A. studio legend, can make a big band purr or roar with just a flick of his wrists; the fact that he takes no extended solos on the album is yet more proof of this celebrated player's commitment to genuine music making rather than flash.

The vocal features stand just as tall as the mighty big band excursions. Andrews takes it nice and easy on "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You," "The Jug and I" "Beautiful Friendship" and "Time After Time" establishing once again how underrated this mellow toned stylist remains. Morrison, whose two and a half octave vocal range is put to good here, buffs "Exactly Like You," "River's Invitation," "Fever" and her own swinging "Got to Get Back to L.A." to a lovely shine. "At a few CHJO rehearsals earlier last year, Barbara and Ernie were asked to sing with the band," John Clayton remembers. "They threw their heads back and, without microphones, sang as if there were thousands listening. No one could have anticipated the stunning effect it would have on the musicians in the room. Jeff Hamilton, my brother Jeff and I agreed we need to document these artists - these treasures!"

The L.A. Treasures Project indeed allows a thriving musical outfit to present two vocal gems in a jewel box setting: a live performance brimming with all the electricity that makes jazz great. As John Clayton sums it all up, "It was an evening that will live with us forever."

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