Throughout 2010 Clay Ross delivered a new album of unrelated digital downloads, one song at a time. The resulting album,”Entre Nous,” has a title borrowed from the lifelong book club of his late grandmother and here Ross imagines each track as it’s own musical short story. Of the album he says, “I felt that ‘between us’ was a good way to describe this collection of songs. There was no attempt to squeeze the music into any one genre for marketing purposes. It’s simply a collection of songs from me to you.”
Ross spent much of the last year touring with Canadian fiddle star April Verch, who was featured in the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Still, he found time to lead his own group Matuto, debuting at the Legendary Blue Note Jazz Club, The Philadelphia Folk Festival, and The Kennedy Center on the heels of his 2009 Ropeadope Records debut of the same name. Mixing musical styles has been a signature of Ross’ sound since the beginning. With multiple tours as a U.S. Jazz Ambassador, a five-year stint with renowned Brazilian Percussionist Cyro Baptista, and performances at bluegrass festivals across North America under his belt, Ross’ resume speaks to his eclectic tastes and versatile talents. “I like so much different music and I’ve always had a hard time defining my own music in terms of genre. With this album I just wanted to let each song stand on it’s own.”
State Department tours of the Balkans inspired the instrumentals “Kosovo” and “Turkish Twang.” “Kosovo made a huge impression on me with its passionate people and history of war. With bombed out buildings and memorials at every turn the streets carry the sting of a slow healing wound” says Ross.
Other jazz leaning compositions include the complex “Computer Crash” and “Shark Parade,” the John Coltrane inspired “Forget the Math,” and the New Orleans second-line driven blues tune “Street Sweep.”
Ross’ brings his songwriting talents and vocals to the forefront on “Sixth City Waltz,” “Plastic Mind,” “Starwood,” “Simple,” “Battle Hymn,” and “Army For You.” With themes touching on love, war, paganism, manifest destiny, and extra terrestrial life the musical arrangements feature lush strings, horn sections, and electronics, all laid on the solid rhythm section of bass, drums, acoustic and electric guitars.
Brazilian slang for “country bumpkin,” Matuto plays original music inspired by Northeastern Brazilian Rhythms and American Folk Music. For the past 3 years, Ross has submerged himself in Brazilian music as a member of Cyro Baptista’s world renowned percussion ensemble “Beat the Donkey.” With Matuto, this South Carolina native mixes the best of Bluegrass and Baiao for a sound like a Carnaval in the Appalachian Mountains.
The albums 11 tracks consist of 7 Ross originals, 4 heavily reworked American folk tunes, and alternates between instrumental and vocal songs. “Recife,” introduces a band of virtuosic instrumentalist on a rhythmically charged new fiddle tune. “What a Day” laments the hectic pace of NYC life over a frenetic samba rhythm. “Remember Calabash” conjures the folksy feel of a lazy afternoon. “Banks of the Ohio” is a unique combination of brazilian folk dance rhythm with a classic american murder ballad. “Zydaco Mondo” presents a pan-american stew with jazz inflections. “Church Street Blues” pairs influences from bluegrass guitar legend Tony Rice with Afro Brazilian folk rhythms. “Maria’s Lullaby” is an intensely brooding ballad propelled by a bed of forceful drumming. “Home Sweet Home” is a simple reading of an american folk classic that marries the brazilian pandiero with the steel string acoustic guitar. “John the Revelator” delivers the raw intensity of a blues drenched vocal riding on a choir of exotic brazilian rhythms while “Dream of Life” is a universal love song with a touch of surf rock guitar. Finally, there is the peaceful, instrumental release of “Feel, like a Song,” complete with chamber winds and spacious percussion effects.
Produced by Clay Ross and pieced together from recording sessions in various studios around NYC, the album features performances from many of the cities finest players. Special guests including master percussionists Cyro Baptista (Paul Simon, Sting) and Ze Mauricio (YoYo Ma, Choro Ensemble), drummer Richie Barshay (Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea) and accordionist Rob Curto (Lila Downs, David Krakauer.) The album was mixed by Tony Maimone at Studio G in Brooklyn and mastered by Scott Hull. With Clay Ross – Guitars, Vocals, and Cavaquinho, Rob Hecht – Fiddle, Edward Perez – Bass, Tim Keiper – Drums, Scott Kettner – Percussion, Eduardo Guedes – Percussion, Olivier Manchon – Violins, Viola, and Vio-cello, Merideth Hite – Oboes and English Horns.
Original Artwork by Grady McFerrin.
The Random Puller
“The Random Puller” marked the independent recording debut of Guitarist / Composer / Bandleader Clay Ross. Ross was recently named a 2005 Jazz Ambassador by the U.S. State Department and had just joined world-renowned percussionist Cyro Baptista’s group “Beat the Donkey.” On this album, Clay leads a quartet through nine original compositions that showcase his writing and improvisational talents.
The music aims at a modern jazz esthetic that maintains its focus on groove and melody. There is the detailed journey through the many sections of title track; the bright and playful feel of the jazz samba “Agora;” the Sephardic sounds of “Falez;” the moody trek through “Lost Child;” the rolling optimism of “Luna Belle;” the pastoral openness of “Midway Road;” the cathartic swing of “Blue Clay;” the tongue and cheek vocal shout on “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah;” and finally a musical mantra, “The Circle Song.”
Recorded in South Carolina over two late night sessions in December 2004, for this date Clay employed the talents of three southern natives. Featuring the inventive tenor playing of Atlanta’s Kebbi Williams (Jeff “Tain” Watts, Outkast) and the dynamic rhythm section of Brian Mulholland (electric bass) and Stockton Helbing (drums), both current members of jazz legend Maynard Ferguson’s touring band, this recording delivers the intimacy of live performance with the sound quality of studio production. Engineered and Mixed at Williamson Evans Music by Duane Evans, “The Random Puller” was also mastered by the ubiquitous Allan Tucker (Verve, Tzadik) at Foothill Digital in NYC.
Mickey Baker Project
Formed in March of 1999, the “Mickey Baker Project” was once a potent force on the Charleston music scene. With Benji Lee (drums) and the extraordinary Ben Bennet (bass) the group performed original music weekly for three years and built a strong following in Charleston. In the Fall of 2001 the group recorded six Clay Ross originals with singer/songwriter/ producer Jay Clifford. The music fuses jazz, funk, rock, and electronica.