Daily Archives: October 24, 2011

SOUL / SEARCHING: JOEL PRESS and MICHAEL KANAN at SMALLS (Oct. 20, 2011)

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!

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DEAR GORDON!” (October 19, 2011)

Trumpeter / composer / arranger Gordon Au is a generous person, and so I was delighted to be in the room wtih a video camera when it was time to celebrate him.  But it happened in a delightfully subversive way.  I was on hand last Wednesday night, October 19, 2011, which happened to be Gordon’s birthday.  (I don’t know the exact number of years he has amassed, but it can’t be all that many.)  But I hadn’t driven all the way into Williamsburg for a slice of cake.  Something better!  Gordon’s Grand Street Stompers were playing.  That night, the Stompers were Dennis Lichtman (clarinet); Matt Musselman (trombone); Nick Russo (banjo, guitar); Rob Adkins (string bass); Tamar Korn (vocal).

Late in the evening, Nick Russo pulled me aside to let me know a happy plot was hatching — the results of which you’ll see in the video below.  The song was CAN’T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU — which was appropriate, because if you turn away, you’ll miss Gordon’s expressions as the band makes a sharp right turn into HAPPY BIRTHDAY.

Dancer, photographer, and dance scholar Lynn Redmile was there also, and (at my request) she provided this valuable annotation:

The shenanigans started with Matt at 1.55 but Gordon only realized at 2.05 (his face was priceless).  His girlfriend Veronica Lynn (tap dancer extraordinaire) came through with the cake, and the jam started at 3.20.  Jennifer Sowden started the jam with Gordon, followed by Shana Kalson (Gordon doing some great Charleston with her), then Michelle de Castro, Tamar Korn, and finally Veronica Lynn.

Happy birthday, dear Gordon Au!  Thanks for all you have given us, and we look forward to much more through many happy years.