Clark Gayton’s curriculum vitae is ridiculous. The multi-instrumentalist and composer has performed on stage and in the studio with everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Prince, Rihanna to Stevie Wonder, Bad Brains to Ray Charles. Even if I don’t know you, I’m willing to bet somewhere in your record collection there’s at least a half-dozen examples of Gayton’s smooth trombone or tuba, or trumpet or keyboards.
Taking center stage on his own album, the uniformly excellent New York 1993 – 2003, Gayton pulls together the sounds of the street during that decade, with dub bubbling along beneath the surface throughout. It’s a satisfying sound full of the kind of welcome warmth we don’t often get to experience in New York during the winter, but it would also prove the ideal soundtrack to a sweltering summer.
Recorded with an army of fellow musicians as Clark and the Superslicks, Gayton’s collective wanderlust is on full display here. In addition to performing on various instruments, Gayton also wrote all the music, co-produced, co-recorded and co-programmed the album. He took all the photographs. It’s likely he also dreamt up the album’s primary thread, which isn’t dub, but rather a feel of what New York City felt like, not only in the decade indicated, but perhaps much earlier as well. A lush big band slow dance number straight from the city’s long-departed dance hall days (“Tina, Too”) appears midway through the album, a romantic side trip amid the feel of palm trees or concrete stoops. The album is a mixtape, as this number, or the acoustic Bossa Nova sound of “Espera, Amor,” or the ‘70s funk stylings of “Cutlass Supreme” and “Toxic Rox It,” proves. And there’s also the actual sound of a cassette popping out and being flipped over, which isn’t as jarring as you might think.
Even with the stylistic detours, New York 1993 – 2003 is firmly rooted in the sounds of Jamaica, by way of the Big Apple. Thrilling dub bass runs up and down your spine on the majority of the tracks, with a nice touch of melodica (on “All in the Game”) here, uptempo ska rhythms (“McCook Book”) there. Perhaps the most curious choice —in flow rather than quality — is closing with “Were You There,” a complex jazz number akin at first to both Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain and later to the electronic fusion which proved so divisive among Davis’ own fans. To be sure, it is glorious, but does it work as a dénouement? It actually does for this reviewer, though perhaps it will prove too far afield for anyone putting this record on at a party.
At 20 tracks (including the 15-second “Intro”), the album may on the surface feel overlong. But give it a listen straight through and you’ll find yourself wishing for even more. New York 1993 – 2003 is simply wonderful.
Photographs by Clark Gayton