I’m very moved by the performance you are about to see, and I feel fortunate to have been there to capture it: this comes from tenor saxophonist Joel Press’s gig at Smalls (138 West 10th Street) as a member of the Michael Kanan Quartet — with bassist Pat O’Leary and drummer Joe Hunt.
For seven-and-a-half minutes, they explore THESE FOOLISH THINGS in the most gently questing way. In the late Twenties (perhaps beginning with Bix and Tram) jazz players invented the “rhythm ballad,” a sweet melody taken at a slowly pulsing tempo. (This song carries with it memories of Billie and Lester and Nat Cole, of course.)
Michael, Joel, Pat, and Joe carry on the tradition here. They honor the essential thread of emotion — this is, after all, a song about remembering love gone away — but they never get bogged down in it. Michael’s introduction, delicately evoking players like Ellis Larkins, prepares us for an inquisitive duet, where he and Joel state the melody, exchange thoughtful comments on it, test it out, and then are joined by the quartet. Joel, as always, speaks within and beyond the melody, with a casual seeming-simplicity that one does not grow into quickly. Michael’s solo, never frivolous, smbodies the pleasure of a mature improviser who knows what it is to play. Pat and Joe, listening as always, keep everything beautifully moving forward.
Art like this doesn’t grow stale: