Stockholm Jazz Festival gave the audience a great opportunity to witness an ode to bass and organ. The first is quite often overlooked by the critics and overpowered by the enchanting saxophone and eloquent piano. The second tends to be perceived as a spice that can be added on demand. But this time, the Clayton–Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and Akiko Tsuruga proved the general stereotype wrong.
It all started in 1985 when Jeff Hamilton joined bassist John Clayton and saxophonist Jeff Clayton to form the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra (CHJO). Almost 40 years later, only two out of three founders are here on stage for us. Multiple Grammy© nominations, international recognition, extensive worldwide touring and featuring on recordings of renowned artists like Diana Krall and Charles Aznavour make the orchestra’s name speak for itself.
For a positively pompous start, Konserthuset’s hall is filled with classic timeless jazz. A stage that might seem intimidating because of its officiality for ones and its big performers for others, quite quickly loses the pretentious outlook and embraces the liveliness of the moment.
Being a distinguished bassist, John Clayton orchestrates the celebratory but accessible tunes. He prefers to operate without the sticks but a director without sticks is nothing like a shoemaker without shoes. Clayton is invigoratingly making dance jazzy moves and getting into the sound. He reminds me of a cheerleader as in “cheering deeply” for your team and “leading with style”.
Soon enough, Jeff Hamilton announces himself with a heartwarming drum solo, not of the loud self-centred kind but more inviting and intriguing. He shows a mesmerising drumstick precision throughout the concert keeping up the wild tempo and still seemingly looking relaxed.
Supported by the impressive team of wind instruments, John Clayton makes Carmichael’s classic Heart and Soul shine in a more romantic tender way. That lovely intro on bass gives room for a natural evolution – a meaningful exchange between the two bassists who performed interconnected solos challenging each other and stealing each other’s last note. The debate got hotter and hotter with every second but, as Jeff Hamilton said, “It was not a fight but a conversation”. In a joint effort, they managed to make the bass sound and look sexy. The intertwined trade concluded in the clear voice of an often second instrument and sang a beautiful ode to bass, highly appreciated by the audience.
In the second half, the CHJO was joined by the Japanese queen of the Hammond organ, Akiko Tsuruga. The alien-like sound caused a complementary symbiosis between the classical outlook and the atypical presence of jazzy tunes. Her entrance broke into the perfect composition of the orchestra and stole all the attention. Tsuruga’s fingers were flying over the organ and making the musicians turn their heads towards her. It was visible to the naked eye how much Tsuruga was enjoying herself and the mastery of the keys. She proved that the opposites attract with her carefree immersion into the alternative side of jazz. The cherry on the top for me was the unholy matrimony of an old-time classic Summertime and the extraterrestrial sounds of the Hammond organ. Akiko Tsuruga brought in the playfulness of another kind: alternative and funny, making the famous American classics sound even more fascinating.
Stockholm Jazz Festival is still with us for the upcoming weekend! Don´t miss out and check the program here. Hope to see you there!
The photos are courtesy of Konserthuset, the Clayton–Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and Akiko Tsuruga.