33-year-old pianist Gerald Clayton had made the transition from up-and-comer to bonafide stalwart on the international jazz scene. His fourth album, Tributary Tales,”was released this April to acclaim: it’s at turns glassy, soulful and funky, with introspective spoken word interludes woven in. (“His pellucid touch and quicksilver phrasing can evoke swinging touchstones like Ahmad Jamal and Oscar Peterson,” Nate Chinen wrote for WBGO.)
For this gig at The Jazz Gallery, Mr. Clayton will bring a different group than the one that appears on the album, but it’s nonetheless filled with familiar faces: Ben Wendel on saxophone, Matt Brewer on bass, Marcus Gilmore on drums, and Lage Lund on guitar. He’ll play some songs from Tributary Tales and some new ones. He called in to talk about the album and the gig; here are excerpts from that conversation.
The Jazz Gallery: What is the concept of Tributary Tales?
Gerald Clayton: I’ve been really inspired by nature and water. With a tributary being a small river that flows out of a larger body of water—I’ve been reflecting on that and how what we do is really connected to what came before us. We’re not setting out to recreate a language from the past, but the essence of the music that we love—that we’ve soaked up for years and years—still exists, and we carry along those messages that we learn from the elders.
It felt fitting to just to keep looking at everything as different tributaries. Another literal meaning of tributary is paying tribute, which definitely feels like it applies to the music I play: giving a nod to the masters. All the musicians on the record coming from different places and influences and there’s a sense of connectedness between everybody. And each song on the record might have a different character, yet there’s a flow that makes them feel like they all belong on the same disc.
TJG: Seems like you have a deep connection to water: where did that stem from? A single moment?
GC: I don’t know if it’s as poetic as a single moment. But I love nature, I love surfing, the feeling of being pushed by nature. Surfing’s one of the few sports where you’re tapping into an energy source.
When I was at the Monterey Festival, I got a tour of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and got to hear about their plastics initiative to clean up the ocean and be more aware of single use plastics. To get some firsthand information from people who devote their lives to that cause was a real honor and something I want to continue with moving forward.
TJG: What are you the most proud of about the album?
GC: The record is in a way a documentation of a single day. You go on, you play it more, you keep discovering new things. That’s definitely a part of the process I cherish. I really enjoyed getting to work with Aja Monet and Carl Hancock Rux and explore the relationship between music and spoken word a little bit more. Some of the post production work I did with Gabriel Lugo, the percussionist—I went further in than I have in the past in some of the sounds and effects. I’m proud of that work.