Sunday, August 24, 2014

Jay Clayton. Harry Who?: A Tribute to Harry Warren.

Jay Clayton.  Harry Who?: A Tribute to Harry Warren.
Sunnyside, 2013.  Jay Clayton:

Jay Clayton is an important figure in the free jazz and avant-garde music worlds.  As a vocalist, she was a pioneer in the late 1960s, incorporating electronics into her music, working with such luminaries as Muhal Richard Abrams and Steve Reich, and even recorded music by John Cage.  She also started out life as Judith Colantone in Youngstown, Ohio.  Here, Clayton reigns in the avant-garde for the most part, singing relatively straight bop (with a few interesting touches) on the classic songs of Harry Warren.  Warren was a major composer and lyricist (also Italian American), who wrote more than 800 songs, including the music for Busby Berkeley’s 42nd Street and dozens of classic tunes such as “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” “That’s Amore,” and “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”  Clayton had a world to pick from, and she found ten she especially liked.

John Di Martino and Houston Person help her out here, and the absence of drums and bass lends itself to an intimate setting.  Di Martino is most prominent behind Clayton’s voice and undergirds the whole album, with Person coming in to punctuate Clayton, or for solos.  Person’s work on “I Wish I Knew” and “September in the Rain” is exquisite, and Di Martino also solos beautifully in several tunes.  However, the focus is largely on Clayton’s vocals, as they should be, and her voice is a remarkable instrument.  Her rich alto ranges low and high as the occasion demands, sometimes whispering, other times scatting.  

While every song on here is a winner, I have favorites.  If I had to pick three, they would be the last three on the album, tunes that are special to me from other contexts.  The way they’re performed here makes them even grander.  Others may choose as they like.  I hope Clayton does a followup on Warren’s tunes; she could fill a ten-disc set with great songs.  This album is a wonderful find, and I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys jazz vocals.

Personnel:  Jay Clayton (vocals), John Di Martino (piano), Houston Person (tenor saxophone).
Tracks:  I Wish I Knew, This Heart of Mine, At Last, September in the Rain, Shadow Waltz, This is Always, You’re My Everything, You’ll Never Know, I Only Have Eyes for You, There Will Never Be Another You.

Jeff Wanser

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