It’s poignant that pianist Gerald Clayton’s Blue Note debut is a live album, recorded pre-pandemic at the Village Vanguard but released at a time when the cherished and historic New York club’s doors were still closed to audiences. Hearing Clayton and his quintet on this fresh set of originals and standards makes one long to be there, to experience the energy and high-level craft of improvisation in person. Bassist Joe Sanders, present on all four of Clayton’s previous releases since 2009, remains in the fold and exhibits a vitalized hookup with acclaimed drummer Marcus Gilmore (standing in for longtime Clayton affiliate Justin Brown). Alto saxophonist Logan Richardson, a strong presence on Clayton’s Tributary Tales and Life Forum, interacts and harmonizes beautifully with tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III on all but two tracks.
Clayton offers three originals from his 2017 studio outing, Tributary Tales (“Patience Patients,” “A Light,” and “Envisionings”), exploring and opening them up creatively on the bandstand. “Rejuvenation Agenda,” with its detailed form, layered rhythms, and lyrical flow, highlights his compositional strengths and the band’s tight rapport as well. On Clayton’s trio features—an uptempo “Celia” by Bud Powell, a straightforward but glowing “Body and Soul”—we really hear the Vanguard room in all its intimacy, warmth, and fire. Ditto the Ellington-penned blues sendoff “Take the Coltrane,” a full-band showcase steeped in jazz tradition and forward-thinking individualism all at once.