It's only April, and pianist Gerald Clayton has already made an impact on three 2013 albums so far. First, on drummer Terri Lyne Carrington's re-imagining of the classic album Money Jungle (cut by the trio of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Max Roach), Clayton had to play the role of Duke -- no easy task -- while also bringing something new to the table. He gets the theme of "Very Special" just right, and also shows evidence of his pulsing, R&B bona fides throughout the album.
Next up was more pop intelligence from Clayton on Cover Art, a smart crossover album from the newly formed NEXT Collective in which the group covered Pearl Jam's "Oceans," Little Dragon's "Twice," and Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild." And now comes the latest opus from Clayton: an album under his own name, Life Forum. The best tracks on it -- see "Mao Nas Massa" -- are built around the pianist's excellent trio. Listen to the appended playlist for a ride through the best of Clayton's adventurous yet accessible work in what's looking like a banner year.