Piedmont Blues with Gerald Clayton

Piedmont Blues: A Search for Salvation was a unique performance by Gerald Clayton & The Assembly at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor on March 14. Clayton was the originator of the concept for the show, composed the music, and played the piano. There was also a gospel choir (from Southfield SEMJA Reviewdirected by Alvin Waddles), a featured vocalist (Rene Marie), a tap dancer (Maurice Chestnut) and videos playing behind the musicians (Christopher McElroen was director of the production). I did not find that the visuals added much to the overall production; in fact I thought they often were a distraction from the music which I was mostly focused on.

The Piedmont Blues is a more gentle, almost folksy variant of the blues, not as aggressive as the Mississippi Delta Blues (or its offshoot Chicago Blues), and it worked well with Clayton’s mainstream approach to jazz.

The Assembly was a septet with three saxophones, and many of the solos were handled beautifully by altoist Godwin Louis. As you would expect, there was a substantial number of blues songs, and Rene Marie was impressive as the lead singer — for example in the slow “Poor Stranger Blues” and the roaring finale “Steppin’ Up and Go.” Clayton’s piano provided the connecting tissue between the vocal numbers and he treated us to several nice solo outings.