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April is Jazz Appreciation Month! What better way to appreciate jazz than by celebrating musicians who are still alive and performing, and thus able to appreciate your appreciation of them?

Every once in a while you stumble across a CD that is so good that before the first song is over you are hooked. The disk I’m going to discuss this time around is just such a CD.

Clayton Cameron was born in Los Angeles and began playing drums at age seven. Later, after he earned a degree in music, he performed with such greats as Tony Bennett, Ernie Andrews, Jimmie Witherspoon, George Shearing, Joes Pass, Gerald Wilson, Teddy Edwards, Nancy Wilson, B.B. King, and “Rat Pack” members Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra.

Nicknamed “Brush Master” after his skill with that particular bit of drum paraphernalia, Cameron has written a book on their use. The title, appropriately enough, is “Brushworks”.

The album I want to talk about this time around is Clayton’s first release under his own name, the brand new “Here’s To The Messengers”. This tribute to Art Blakey was just released on January 20, 2012.

Clayton Cameron's "Here's To The Messengers"

Clayton Cameron’s “Here’s To The Messengers”

The group Cameron put together for this outing is called the Jass eXplosion, which will seem like an appropriate name once you hear them do their thing.

The Jass eXplosion are:

Clayton Cameron, drums
Billy Childs, piano
Darek “Oles” Oleszkiewicz, bass
Bob Sheppard, tenor & soprano sax
Gilbert Castellanos, trumpet
John Beasley, piano (tracks 4, 7 & 8)
Trevor Ware, bass (tracks 4, 7 & 8)
Tevon Pennicott, tenor sax (tracks 4, 7 & 8)

“Here’s To The Messengers” starts off with a composition by trombonist Curtis Fuller, “A La Mode”. This is a popular, lively song that was often performed and recorded by Blakey’s group. This version of the song is instantly captivating, and perfectly sets the tone for what is to follow.

The danger inherent in albums lead by drummers is that the principal may give in to the temptation to over-indulge in drum solos. In a live performance, when you are there in the audience watching, listening, and feeling the music in your bones, a masterful drum solo can truly be an exciting experience.

In any other setting, unless the listener is also a drummer, extended drum solos can be, well, quite tedious and even irritating to listen to. When I was hosting “Saturday Night Jazz” on KMHD, the two biggest no-no’s (besides the obvious one, profanity) were dead air and long drum solos, and not necessarily in that order. And yes, there are exceptions to every rule. The problem is, drawing the line.

Having said that, I am happy to report that Cameron’s drum solos, including the one that begins two thirds of the way through “A La Mode”, are anything but tedious.

The second track, “Art Full”, is the first of four Cameron originals on the disk. “Art Full” begins with a short 10 second solo from the leader’s drums before the whole group joins in. In just over three and a half minutes, this song quickly takes you on an auditory romp that will leave you wondering how the pianist and drummer managed to not wind up with debilitating hand/arm cramps. Cramps aside, “Art Full” is a great song and the guys did a bang-up job with it. You’ll like it.

“What Do You Say Dr. J” is up next. Composed by the late pianist James Williams, himself a ten year (1978-1988) member of The Jazz Messengers, this song appears to have been recorded only one other time. What a shame! As performed by here Clayton and Co., “What Do You Say Dr. J” is not as lively as the first two songs, but nonetheless is a fine piece of music. Bob Sheppard on tenor sax especially stands out.

The Johnny Mercer standard “Autumn Leaves” is the number four track, arranged by Cameron and Nick Depinna. There’s not much I can say about this song that hasn’t already been said. It is, of course, a great song, and this arrangement suits it well. We are first delighted by Castellanos’ trumpet, then Beasley’s piano takes over for an animated moment before turning the lead back to Castellanos.

“The End Of Our Winter” is another Cameron original. Castellanos trumpet again thrills, and this time it’s Childs’ turn to show his stuff on the piano. All the while this is going on, Cameron shows us some of the magnificent brush work that earned him his nickname.

Another Jazz Messengers alumni, pianist Bobby Timmons (composer of the monster classic, “Moanin'”), penned the next track, “So Tired”, another upbeat, lively piece that moves you right along with it.

The next-to-last track is the title tune, Cameron’s “Here’s To The Messengers”. This is a nice bop piece that will burn its way into your memory. Beasley on piano and Ware on bass are standouts on this one.

Beasley is no stranger to readers of this blog, having been the subject of the 12th installment of this ongoing dialogue last October for his 2009 release, “Positootly!”. I certainly don’t mean to imply that there is anything wrong with Childs’ work, but it was a pleasant surprise to see Beasley’s name in the credits for this album.

“We For Blakey” may be poor grammar, but it’s a wonderful song. It’s the penultimate Cameron composition on the disk, and it displays Trevor Ware Bass’s delightful affinity for his instrument. Even when Beasley’s piano is nominally in the lead, Bass is never forgotten or reduced to the background.

The final Cameron song, “Here’s To The Messengers”, is a wonderful tribute to Blakey and his group. This is a fast-paced piece of music that follows the longstanding jazz tradition of giving every member of the group his opportunity to shine.

The final song, “ETA”, is the handiwork of yet another Jazz Messengers alumnus, saxophonist Bobby Watson. “ETA” has been good to Watson, having been recorded a number of times. Cameron’s group, with Beasley on the piano, does a wonderful job with it. The horns and Childs’ piano especially stand out.

The bottom line: “Here’s To The Messengers” will make an excellent addition to your personal playlist for a Saturday, or any other, night!

You can learn more about Clayton Cameron and his music by visiting his Facebook page.

I asked Clayton about his web site, www.claytoncameron.com, and he revealed to me that the domain is presently owned by someone other than himself.

That being the case, I would ask you to make any purchases through Clayton’s Facebook page and avoid his namesake web site until such time as he is able to reclaim it.

Thanks for reading this.

Al Evans
Wood Village, Oregon

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My original content, including photos other than album covers, Copyright © 2012 by Al Evans. All rights reserved.

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