I told both Michael Kanan (piano) and Joel Press (tenor and soprano saxophones) that I had been waiting a few years to hear them perform as a duo. I knew that they had done this informally for twenty-five years in their respective studios and even appeared in public (probably in the Boston area) but I had always heard them in less intimate settings. Last Thursday, October 20, 2011, I had my chance, and the music was memorable.
Michael is younger than Joel, whom he met when he was only seventeen or eighteen, and he looks up to the saxophonist with love and reverence — as a great melodic improviser, someone full of surprises, able to create new things on the most familiar standard. But Joel, for his part, says he keeps learning from Michael — and hearing the depths and subtleties of Michael’s playing, it’s no hyperbole.
It would be very easy to skate over the surface of these familiar songs, but these two players know what it is to listen, to respond, to improvise. It’s lovely to witness the deep, playful interchanges of artists so attuned to one another yet so able to take off on small experimental impulses. Their friendship and telepathy imbue every note, every phrase.
Here is the first set of this magical evening at Smalls (138 West 10th Street, Greenwich Village, New York City).
And this posting is especially for RDR, without whom it would have taken me much longer to hear and meet Joel and Michael . . .
GONE WITH THE WIND always makes me think of Ben Webster and Art Tatum, not a bad pair of heroic ancestors:
HOW’S THE HORN TREATING YOU? is both Joel’s whimsical memory of Steve Lacy, who would ask him this question as a greeting (the soprano saxophone is notoriously unforgiving) and an improvisation on I’M GETTING SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU:
A very lovely yet intense DON’T BLAME ME:
Truer words were never spoken: I HEAR A RHAPSODY:
SOMEBODY LOVES ME, the Gershwin standard (now right years old) that Joel begins, solo:
For Lester and Billie, in loving swing memory, FOOLIN’ MYSELF:
And a cheerful LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE (at such a pretty tempo) to close off the first set:
More to come!