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VISITING ACT ‌ Pulling Ahead

The expressive jazz of the Clay Ross Band

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The Current Clay Ross Band (L to R): Drummer Stockton Helbing, bassist Brian Mullholland, sax player KebbiI Williams, and guitarist Clay Ross
  • The Current Clay Ross Band (L to R): Drummer Stockton Helbing, bassist Brian Mullholland, sax player KebbiI Williams, and guitarist Clay Ross
The Clay Ross Band
Sat. Dec. 17
10 p.m.
$5
Pour House
1977 Maybank Hwy.
571-4343

www.charlestonpourhouse.com

New York-based jazz guitarist Clay Ross -- a serious picker, strummer, and composer with over 15 years of professional experience -- makes it back to Charleston for a special homecoming concert this weekend. With his own combo and an impressive new solo album titled The Random Puller (YalcMusic), the young jazz cat makes his mark as a seriously expressive player and bandleader.

Ross, a native of Anderson, S.C., received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the College of Charleston in '98. For the last few years, he's collaborated with jazz and world-music musicians in New York and across the country. He last performed in town in September with the wild and woolly Beat the Donkey group, led by percussionist Cyro Baptista. This time, he's in front of own combo with drummer Stockton Helbing and bassist Brian Mullholland -- both current members of trumpeter Maynard Ferguson's touring band -- and tenor saxophonist Kebbi Williams, himself a regular collaborator with local drummer Quentin Baxter.

"The band really starts with my relationship to our bassist, Brian," says Ross. "He and I are both from Anderson, and I always knew him as a musical prodigy. We didn't play together much back then. I was busy being a delinquent and he was busy playing with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. So, when I started to take music seriously in Charleston, he was always someone who I knew I wanted to play with; someone who represented the level that I wanted to reach musically."

The quartet also performs this week in Columbia, Savannah, Asheville, and Greenville. "I have been looking forward to these shows all year, and I personally can't wait to play with these guys again. The show at the Pour House will be the album times infinity."

Mullholland and Ross started arranging the music for The Random Puller last year with engineer/producer Duane Evans at his studio in Greenville. "Duane is actually my dad's old roommate from Clemson University," says Ross. "He was definitely the first professional musician that I knew. Now here he is producing my first recording.

"When we made this recording it was the first time that all four of us ever played together," Ross admits. "I had been preparing the music and drew from a catalog of songs that I've written over the last six years. We hung out at my mom's and rehearsed in the day, then went to the studio at night to record. We did most of the tunes in one or two takes. These guys play so well, it was easy."

The Latin-tinged bebop and syncopated explorations on The Random Puller cover a lot of ground. Especially impressive is the fluidity of Stockton's drumming style (the quick, accented cymbal grabs and the mallet work are simply Shelly Manne-esque), which works nicely locked in with Mullholland. Williams' flexible technique jumps from gorgeous to screechy to bouncy, intermingling with Ross's delicate chord progressions and melodic runs.

"The hybrid of sounds is part of the process of finding my voice," Ross says. "When I knew that I wanted to be an artist and make music, I started to ask myself some tough questions. Who am I? What are my natural talents? What do I want to say, and what is the best way for me to say it? Jazz is a part of who I am on many levels. It's been a long and sometimes painstaking process learning to speak this musical language, but my goal has always been to better deliver my message. As I continue to learn, I want to push through that knowledge and share my soul."

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