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Pianist Gerald Clayton shows how his music is opening up on the new Tributary Tales

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With his dense new album Tributary Tales (Motema), pianist and composer Gerald Clayton acknowledges the influence of new people and new sounds on his music and life, tracing his course from straight-ahead player who grew up on the west coast in a family of jazz heavies to New York musician charting his own path. That journey is thrillingly represented on a track like “A Light,” with saxophonists Ben Wendel and Logan Richardson briskly sketching the sort of slaloming bebop lines one might expect from a Lennie Tristano tune while drummer Justin Brown collides hip-hop flavors within an explosive attack marked by frantic accents, adding to a groove that teems with the complexity of New York’s current jazz vanguard. There’s no sense of disconnect between the approaches, as the performances are seamless and utterly natural. On “Wakeful” the extra heft from the baritone saxophone of Dayna Stephens summons an Ellingtonian richness, while “Soul Stomp” evokes a modernized Ray Charles. There’s also a series of short improvised pieces with titles that suggest a probing quality (“Search For,” “Reflect On,” “Engage In”) and some mood pieces with measured spoken-word passages from poets Carl Hancock Rux and Aja Monet. Clayton is terrific throughout, and rarely overstays his welcome—so I’m looking forward to tonight’s show, where he’ll lead a trio with bassist Joe Sanders (who plays on the record) and drummer Kendrick Scott.   v

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