Voted the number two big band playing in the mid-'00s by a Jazz Times Reader's Poll, the popular, Grammy nominated, L.A.-based ensemble the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra celebrated 20 years of maintaining and expanding the big band jazz tradition in 2005. As the adage goes, the live setting is where the spirit of jazz really happens, and this recording, Live at MCG -- recorded over a four-day "residency" at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild in Pittsburgh in May 2004 -- perfectly captures Clayton-Hamilton's spontaneous spirit. Though the core and namesakes of the unit are bassist/conductor John Clayton, saxophonist and flutist Jeff Clayton, and drummer Jeff Hamilton, the trio happily let numerous soloists color the mix. Their feisty, swinging opening take on Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia," for instance features a frenetic tenor solo by Rickey Woodard, who also adds a spunky energy to the sly, more subtly rhythmic Horace Silver tune "Jody Grind." Up-grooving exercises like these two tracks and "Captain Bill" (as played by Monty Alexander, Ray Brown, and Herb Ellis), are balanced by more introspective numbers. "Nature Boy," featuring John Clayton's dramatic bass bowing, is given a semi-classical reading, while the graceful and moody "Lullaby of the Leaves" features guest solos by George Bohanon (trombone) and Tamir Hendelman (piano). Clayton-Hamilton save their most robust burst of traditional-meets-modern-day energy for "Silver Celebration," John Clayton's fiery tribute to piano great Horace Silver, which features an irrepressible rolling drum solo by Hamilton. This description only scratches the surface of the many colorful textures of a project that sums up all the fun and tradition the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra have been bringing to the world for two decades.
AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran