Tag Archives: Kyle Aho

JOEL PRESS and MICHAEL KANAN (June 29, 2010)

I had first heard the saxophonist Joel Press on a CD called HOW’S THE HORN TREATING YOU? some years ago.  I was delighted by his imagination, his ease, his sense of self — he knows and has lived through an entire jazz tradition from Lester and Hawkins to free jazz and beyond, but he sounds utterly like himself. 

Then, more recently, I had the good fortune to hear his duet sessions with pianist Kyle Aho, UNTYING THE STANDARD, which impressed me greatly.  (Both of these CDs are on the Cadence Jazz Records label, numbers 1184 and 1204, and both are consistently uplifting.)  And the beautifully idiosyncratic photograph — legs and untied shoes — is by Joel’s daughter Maya Francesca Press, a questing artist herself. 

I learned that Joel was coming to New York to appear twice in quartets headed by the superb pianist Michael Kanan (whose work on Dan Block’s new Ellington disc is a sweet highlight).  Joel transcended my expectations as a player and as a person: friendly, candid, full of feeling. 

Here is the quartet — completed by the wondrous Pat O’Leary and the steadily powerful Joe Hunt — as they appeared at Smalls.  One of the high points of that night was FOOLIN’ MYSELF, learned from the irreplaceable 1937 Billie Holiday – Lester Young recording.  

This version is both original and a loving homage: notice Joel’s mastery of tone (purring or strong), his own phrase-shapes (you can’t predict where he is about to land, but once he has, it makes perfect sense), his speaking approach to the horn, as if he were someone with an important message he wanted to whisper in everyone’s ear.  Pay attention to Michael’s subtle, needling approach to his phrases; he can be percussive or as gentle as someone carefully smoothing the wrinkles out of the blanket.  And then there’s Pat’s sound, his rich sonority, his mastery of space and time; Joe’s serious pulse, his mastery of his whole drum kit.  FOOLIN’ MYSELF is, to me, a delicious exploration of the past that makes it brightly alive in 2010 . . . with more to come:

and a brief dialogue between Joel and Michael to conclude this lovely performance:

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JOEL PRESS, SWING EXPLORER

joel-press

Photograph by Herb Snitzer

When I get a boxful of compact discs to review from CADENCE — the honest jazz magazine* — I am full of anticipation.  It’s a jazz birthday party in my apartment, as I find a knife to cut through the tape and unwrap the newspaper protecting the CDs.  Now, my first reactions aren’t always trustworthy.  Sometimes a CD I greet with glee turns out to be dull.  And occasionally something that looks tepid jumps right out of the chamber into my heart. 

This time, the box included a new CD by saxophonist Joel Press (known far and wide in Newton, Massachusetts and the Boston jazz scene) and pianist Kyle Aho.  It’s called UNTYING THE STANDARDS (Cadence Jazz Records 1204) and I admire it tremendously — for the way it balances “traditionalism” (the loving respect for the original melodies and a seductive rhythmic pulse) and “freedom” (brave explorations outside and inside).  I expect I will have more to say about this CD soon. 

But, for the moment, I would urge you to visit Joel’s site — www.joelpress.com. — to see a video clip of him blowing the blues with a purring tone and high emotional intensity, rocking back and forth as if caught wholly by jazz.  And you can read his own reminiscences of musicians and scenes past, although he is no museum exhibit himself.  In addition, you can read my own 2006 review of his CD, HOW’S THE HORN TREATING YOU? — where I couldn’t restrain my enthusiasm.  He’s someone you ought to know.  And I’m going back to my slow savoring of his new CD — an aesthetic meal too rich to be gobbled up in a sitting.

*This isn’t the place to launch into polemic, because I wrote this post to praise Joel Press — but I mean “honest” in that CADENCE separates the advertisements and the reviews, which is not typical of jazz magazines.  If editors of other magazines wish to respond to this and say why a glowing review on page 8 and an ad on page 9 poses no conflict of interest as they see it, I would be happy to discuss the issue with them in this blog.