I moved to Portland a little over four years ago. I did not know a single person in Portland when I moved here but for one person, Clay Giberson. Giberson and I have a couple mutual friends in New York, and I met Giberson at a jam session in Brooklyn well-before I had even thought of living in Portland. When I got to town and was trying to find a foothold on the local jazz scene I remembered Giberson since he was a nice guy that I knew could play really well. Since then, our musical relationship has developed considerably, and we continue to make music together in a number of settings. So, there you go. there is my disclaimer before I tell you about his new album on Origin Records, Pastures.
Even before I heard a single note from this record I knew I had to make a big deal out of it in Jazzscene. It would be a jazz crime to overlook a player with as much depth as Giberson making a record with a supporting cast as stellar as this one. Donny McCaslin (tenor saxophone) has been making serious waves on the international jazz scene for decades due to his flawless technique, effervescent improvising, and steady workload; but then 2016 happened and his star seemed to blur out everyone else's. He was given loads of room to do his thing on the requiem masterpiece record by David Bowie, Blackstar, and released a critically-acclaimed album on Motema Music, Beyond Now.
Drew Gress (bass) is the kind of player that makes people just shake their heads in disbelief. How is it that he can be so good, and so versatile? It seems he can do everything and never even entertains the idea of making a mistake. I am not sure he even knows what that word means. His sound, his time, his intonation, and his improvising are always just perfect. And it is not perfect to the detriment of character or emotion. His playing abounds with joy and depth. If you have never heard Drew Gress play live you are missing out on one of the clearest bass sounds I have ever heard. But do not look for flash. Flash is not something Gress does. His playing is ever-so understated, and that is clear on this record.
Matt Wilson (drums) is another artist who seems to be able to walk in so many worlds that it is hard to just pin him down to one thing. Wilson's Big Happy Family: Beginning of a Memory made a lot of critics' Top Jazz Records of 2016 list, but Wilson is more-than-capable as a sideman. In fact, his sideman playing is my favorite of his. Pastures is a clear example of why his sideman playing is so incredible. His musicianship never ceases. Everything he plays is played with sincerity, care, and commitment. If he is not playing something that makes everyone else around him sound better, you better bet he is playing some really hip stuff that makes him the feature.
It seems Giberson was very intentional with the mercenaries that he hired for this session. This is not just an all-star cast. It is an all-star cast that compliments each of the players equally. So often, when out-of-towners (as Giberson was on this session since it was recorded in Brooklyn) record albums with New York heavy-hitters, it can come off as stale and lack chemistry. Not so with Pastures. The individual musicians interlock with each other. You want fireworks? Let McCaslin do his thing on the hip, reharmonized standard, "Long Ago and Far Away." You want beauty? How about a delightfully orchestrated Shaker hymn with modern reharmonization that features Giberson's delicate touch reminiscent of Keith Jarrett?
Giberson's influences seem pronounced throughout. It does not just stop at Jarrett. On the burner, "Highwire," I was reminded of Brad Mehldau because of his fluidity and acrobatics on soaring lines at a fast tempo. On the tribute to Ornette Coleman, "Song for Ornette," the jagged motifs and angular llnes conjure up the ghostly mist of Paul Bley. Inspiration aside, Giberson has a clear voice all his own, and invites the listener in, as opposed to cramming it in the listener's face. As much as I dug this record there were a couple things I would have liked to hear changed or omitted. For one, Giberson does not stretch enough for my tastes. It is his record, and I really wanted to hear what he had to say standing next to these giants. I might also point to McCaslin's sour intonation in a number of spots. That is really strange to me because, again, I would normally point to him being one of the most ridiculous technicians that the instrument has ever seen. Personally, I just skip over the track "Infinity X," altogether, though some here in Portland might like it if they dug a certain type of break-out from Dan Balmer on Monday nights at Jimmy Mak's. Additionally, the syrupy Bond theme "Nobody Does It Better," turned me off a bit, but that is just my personal taste. Though that track does remind me a bit of a mashup of Jarrett's European and American quartets from the 1970s.
Overall, this is tremendously well-crafted album that fits together as a whole, but also has a number of stand-out, radio-type tracks. The musicianship is of the highest caliber. The energy is intense, but never too much. The writing and arranging is interesting and clever. Here in Portland we do not often get one of our own presenting us a jazz record with as much intent, direction, and firepower as Pastures. Do not let this one go under your radar.