Charles Lloyd, Gerald Clayton Collaborate as Simpatico Duo
Posted 2/27/2014

Charles Lloyd has worked with many talented pianists, but on Feb. 22 at Trinity University’s Laurie Auditorium in San Antonio, he joined the 29-year-old pianist Gerald Clayton onstage for the first time.

Organized by Musical Bridges Around the World as part of its Music Without Borders festival, the concert served as the kickoff for a week that included performances by Israeli and Palestinian concert pianists, flamenco dancers and a Russian string quintet, among other diverse acts.

Lloyd and Clayton were a simpatico duo, with the saxophonist-flutist launching into his characteristic staggered runs and the pianist responding with a chameleonic fluidity, sounding like Thelonious Monk one minute and Joe Sample the next.

Lloyd, who graced the May 2013 cover of DownBeat, collaborated most recently with pianist Jason Moran on 2013’s Hagar’s Song (ECM).

“I grew up around one of the greatest pianists ever, Phineas Newborn, when I was a young child in Memphis,” Lloyd told DownBeat. “He became my mentor and I think he planted a seed in me, so many great pianists have expressed an interest to play with me. These pianists are all different but the sound quest is in all of them.”

Clayton—who topped the Rising Star–Piano category in DownBeat’s 2013 Critics Poll and whose album Life Forum (Concord) was nominated for a Grammy this year in the Best Jazz Instrumental Album category—proved to be an inspired, versatile partner for the septuagenarian saxophonist. Lloyd’s sound was energetic but not rambunctious, with a wobbly pliability and a veneer of sheer beauty.

During one solo early in the show, Lloyd quoted from “Autumn Leaves,” though he and Clayton were communicating at such a high level and with such ease and grace that it hardly mattered what tune they were playing. It was like watching an expertly crafted foreign film without subtitles: Something beautiful was certainly happening, even if you weren’t exactly sure what it was.

The attendance at the Laurie Auditorium exceeded expectations, with a good mix of Musical Bridges and KRTU Jazz 91.7 FM members. The jazz community of San Antonio was out in strong numbers for this historic show.

Two of the more straightforward selections of the evening—“Somewhere” from West Side Story and the 1975 pop hit “You Are So Beautiful”—came during an encore, and elicited a strong crowd response.

At times during Clayton’s solos, Lloyd stood off to the side or sat on a stool, smiling at the young pianist’s obvious talent. Throughout the night, the audience could feel Lloyd’s smile—the one on his face and the one in his music.

—Anthony Dean-Harris


Gerald Clayton and Charles Lloyd onstage in San Antonio on Feb. 22. (Photo: Ken Mahnke)

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