Tag Archives: Michael Kanan

SAM BRAYSHER – MICHAEL KANAN: “GOLDEN EARRINGS”

First, please watch this.  And since it’s less than two minutes, give it your complete attention.  I assure you that you will feel well-repaid:

I first began listening to GOLDEN EARRINGS, a series of duets between alto saxophonist Sam and pianist Michael, a few months ago.  I was entranced, yet I found it difficult to write about this delicately profound music, perhaps because I was trying to use the ordinary language of music criticism to describe phenomena that would be better analogized as moments in nature: the red-gold maple leaf I saw on the sidewalk, the blackbird eating a bit of fruit in the branches of the tree outside my window.

There’s nothing strange about GOLDEN EARRINGS: it’s just that the music these two create is air-borne, resonant, full of feeling and quiet splendors. Think of quietly heartfelt conversations without words between two great artists.

And this:

Coming down to earth, perhaps, here are Sam’s own words — excerpted from an article by Phil Hewitt:

I grew up in Dereham, Norfolk and played the saxophone in school and also in the Norwich Students’ Jazz Orchestra. I gradually became more interested in jazz through my teenage years and went to study jazz saxophone at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama when I was 18 in 2007. Since graduating I’ve been freelancing in London and doing a fairly wide range of jazz gigs. I met Michael on my first trip to New York in 2014 although I already knew his playing from a few records. I’m a big fan of his playing: he’s incredibly tasteful and has a beautiful touch. He is melodic, swinging and really plays what he hears. I think we like a lot of the same musicians: Lester Young, Charlie Parker, musicians from the Tristano school, Hank Jones, Ahmed Jamal, Thelonious Monk. Michael is also incredibly nice, generous and encouraging. We kept in touch and we played a bit informally when he was in London a few times in 2015 on tour with Jane Monheit. I then took part in a summer school run by Jorge Rossy near Barcelona, which Michael teaches on every year alongside people like Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath, Ben Street, Chris Cheek and Peter Bernstein. So after all that I felt like I knew him quite well, and decided to ask him to do a duo recording with me. I really like playing in small combos like duos and trios, and I know Michael does too: you can have a more focused, conversational musical interaction, and I enjoy the challenge of keeping the texture varied despite the limited instrumentation. The recording process itself was fairly old school: just a few microphones in a room with a nice acoustic and a nice piano (Michael’s own The Drawing Room in Brooklyn, New York), one quick rehearsal and no edits. The repertoire is mostly slightly lesser-known tunes from the Great American Songbook and jazz canon – including compositions by Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern, Victor Young, Nat King Cole and Irving Berlin – plus there’s one original composition by me. I really enjoy digging a bit deeper and trying to find tunes to interpret which are slightly off the beaten track, and Michael is a real expert on the American Songbook in particular, so it was great to utilise his knowledge in that respect. It was fantastic to play with someone of Michael’s calibre. He’s played with people like Jane Monheit, Jimmy Scott, Peter Bernstein, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Ted Brown . . . .

The music was both recorded and photographed by the eminently gifted Neal Miner — whom most of us knew as a superlative string bassist.  When I received a copy of the CD (released on Jordi Pujol’s FRESH SOUND NEW TALENT label) and wanted to let you all know about it, I asked Sam if he would share his notes on the music, because they were like the music: gentle, focused, and intuitive.

Like most jazz musicians of my generation, I have been introduced to this type of repertoire through listening to and playing jazz, rather than by growing up with it as pop music in the way that, say, Sonny Rollins would have done. However, I have become increasingly interested in the songs themselves. Rollins playing “If Ever I Would Leave You” is amazing, but it is also fascinating to hear the Lerner and Loewe song in its (very different) original form. (I am referring more to American Songbook songs here, rather than compositions by the likes of Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington, which have obviously always existed as jazz performances).

By listening to original recordings, learning lyrics and consulting published sheet music, I have tried to access the ‘composer’s intention’ – something that Michael Kanan, an expert in this area, talks about. We tried to use this as our starting point for interpretation and improvisation, rather than existing jazz versions.

I feel very fortunate to have recorded with Michael. His wonderful playing is plain to hear, but he was also incredibly generous and encouraging throughout the entire process of making this album.

Our approach to recording was fairly old fashioned: just three microphones in a room with a nice piano; no headphones and no edits. Neal Miner took care of all this, and his kind and positive presence in the studio made the whole thing a lot easier.

Thank you for listening to this music. I hope you enjoy it.

Dancing In The Dark: Michael takes the melody while I play a countermelody partly derived from the sheet music and the dramatic orchestral arrangement that Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse dance to in the film The Band Wagon.

Cardboard: the melodies that Bird writes are incredible; he is perhaps undervalued as a composer. Michael and I solo together. Some of his lines here are so hip!

Irving Berlin Waltz Medley: three beautifully simple songs. Michael plays a moving solo rendition of “Always”, which Berlin wrote as a wedding present for his wife. Hank Mobley’s Soul Station contains the classic version of “Remember”. I love that recording but the song in its original form is almost an entirely different composition.

BSP: the one original composition here, this is a contrafact (a new melody written over an existing chord sequence) based on Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale”. It was written a few years ago when I was particularly interested in the music of Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh. The melody is heard at the end.

All Too Soon: originally recorded as an instrumental by the classic Blanton-Webster edition of the Ellington band, this ballad was later given lyrics by Carl Sigman.

In Love In Vain: I love the original version from the film Centennial Summer. We begin with Kern’s verse and end with a coda that is sung in the film but does not appear in the sheet music I have for this. Perhaps it was added by the film’s orchestrators? So much for getting to the composer’s original intention!

The Scene Is Clean: there are a few mysterious corners in this tune from the pen of Tadd Dameron, the great bebop composer, and this is probably the most harmonically dense composition to feature here. The version on Clifford Brown & Max Roach at Basin Street is fantastic.

Beautiful Moons Ago: I don’t know many other Nat ‘King’ Cole originals, but this is a lovely, sad song by one of my favourite pianists and singers (co-written by Oscar Moore, the guitarist in his trio). I don’t think it is very well known.

Golden Earrings: another selection from a film, this mystical, haunting song was a hit for Peggy Lee. Victor Young’s harmony is quite classical at certain points.

Way Down Yonder In New Orleans: if this tune is played nowadays it tends to be by traditional jazz or Dixieland bands, but I’m a fan of it. The form is an unusual length and it contains a harmonic surprise towards the end. This take features more joint soloing and we finish by playing Lester Young’s masterful 1938 solo in unison.

Thanks:
Michael Kanan, Neal Miner, Jordi Pujol, Walter Fischbacher, John Rogers and Mariano Gil for their invaluable help and expertise. London friends who helped by playing through the material with me before the recording, lending their ears afterwards and by offering general advice: Helena Kay, Will Arnold-Forster, Gabriel Latchin, Matt Robinson, Nick Costley-White and Rob Barron. All my teachers over the years. Special thanks to Mum and Dad, Lois and Nana.

Sam Braysher, September 2016.

And here’s another aural delicacy:

I think the listeners’ temptation is to find a box into which the vibrations can conveniently fit.  Does the box say TRISTANO, KONITZ-MARSH, PRES, ROWLES-COHN?  But I think we should put such boxes out for the recycling people to pick up.

This music is a wonderful series of wise tender explorations by two artists so much in tune with each other and with the songs.  So plain, so elegantly simple, so deeply felt, it resists categorizations.  And that’s how it should be — but so rarely is.

My only objection — and I am only in part facetious — is that the format of the CD encourages us to continue at a medium tempo from performance to performance. I would have been happier if this disc had been issued on five 12″ 78 discs, so that at the close of a song I or any other listener would have to get up, turn the disc over, or put the needle back to the beginning.  The sounds are nearly translucent; they shimmer with feeling and intelligence.

Sam’s website is here; his Facebook page here.  New Yorkers have the immense privilege of seeing Michael on a fairly regular basis, and that’s one of the pleasures of living here.

May your happiness increase!

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THEY’RE SWELL: MARIEL BILDSTEN and GREG RUGGIERO at TURNSTYLE, October 17, 2017

Wonderful synergy.  One . . .

Mariel Bildsten. Photograph by Jeff Drolette.

plus one . . . .

Greg Ruggiero

makes up a musical organization much more expansive than a duo.

But who knew that such glorious music flourished underground? Most Tuesdays, trombonist Mariel Bildsten leads a small group — quite compact, because it’s a duo: here she is with guitarist Greg Ruggiero, both playing splendidly in “Turnstyle,” a subway-mall attached to the “A” at Columbus Circle in New York City, on October 17, 2017.

Greg I’ve known and admired for some time because of his beautiful playing with, among others, Michael Kanan, Neal Miner, and Sam Taylor.  But I first encountered Mariel at Turnstyle this autumn, and was delighted.

A small digression: here you can learn about all the eateries at Turnstyle, and get some basic orientation about how to get there.  It’s easier the second time.

These are easy to listen to, right now.

THOU SWELL:

I SURRENDER, DEAR:

Here is Greg’s website, and here is Mariel’s.  And — for more up-to-date news — find them on Facebook here (Greg) and here (Mariel).

When Dostoevsky wrote NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND, he didn’t have anything quite so uplifting in mind.

May your happiness increase!

MARIANNE SOLIVAN’S EXUBERANCE (July 20, 2017)

MARIANNE SOLIVAN by Gulnara Khamatova

My current life is imperfect and (not “but”) I am deeply grateful for it.  One of the aspects of it that deeply warms me is living in a world where creative people are my friends. Even though we don’t see each other on a regular basis, one of the people I treasure is the extraordinary singer Marianne Solivan.  I was first introduced to her by the equally splendid Michael Kanan — this was in 2011 (!) and followed her around with a video camera a few years ago. We most recently encountered each other last September at an awards ceremony.  Hugging ensued.

Marianne has always had a powerful emotional connection with what she is singing: she doesn’t stand back and view the song with a cool postmodernist glance.  No, she’s IN it before she utters a syllable, and that’s entrancing.  It isn’t “acting”; rather it’s experiencing in the moment.  You can feel the music flow through her, as she embraces each note and syllable before passing it along to us.

But what I love most about Marianne’s performing is her willingness to take what someone else’s GPS says are wrong turns and make them inescapably right and rewarding.  Sometimes she even appears to be conversing with the song, “Song, what would you think if I emphasized this note, or held off on this phrase in an unexpected way?  How would you like that?”

She has a true playful spirit, she loves experimenting, and her internal compass never fails.  Drop her in strange surroundings, she makes friends; she sniffs out congenial places; she’s not afraid.  Ask her to sing in the wrong key, and she makes a banquet of it.

And so it is with the performance captured at Luca’s Jazz Corner — with Josh Richman, piano; Matthew Parrish, string bass — on July 20, 2017.

Watching and hearing this for the first of many times, I was laughing –Marianne is a great comedienne who hasn’t scripted a thing — while delighting in the music and the beauty she makes.  A courageous striving soul, a great spreader of joy.  I am honored to know her.  Seek her out here, on disc, and in person.

May your happiness increase!

OVER THE ROUGH ROAD TO THE STARS: ROBERTA PIKET and LENA BLOCH at THE DRAWING ROOM (May 20, 2017)

Here are two of my favorite explorers, captured in a marvelous series of duets.   My title may seem a touch fanciful: the only climb a session at The Drawing Room, Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig’s serene studio, necessitates, is a few flights of stairs. But the music created the night of May 20, 2017, by Lena Bloch, tenor saxophone, and Roberta Piket, piano, makes me think of limitless vistas full of stars.  Listen and I think you will agree.

LENNIE’S PENNIES (Tristano’s minor-key improvisation on PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, first recorded with Konitz and Warne in 1952):

Lena’s ruminative composition, SHORTER NIGHTS:

Tristano’s line on the classic song — theoretically requested by drunks, but the drunks no longer know it.  You do, even when you are sober:

Improvsations on a lovely Fifties ballad, NEVER LET ME GO:

and, to close the recital, an explosively energized HOT HOUSE:

What beauty and what quiet courage.

May your happiness increase!

“MISTER GLOOM WON’T BE ABOUT”: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE at LUCA’S JAZZ CORNER (Dec. 22, 2016)

luca-jazz-corner

Feeling lower than a snake’s belly?  Or perhaps is “fump” the objective correlative for now?  (Milt Hinton would be happy to explain.) Is the inside of your skull terribly dark these days?

This might help.  The elixir of life mixes the inspiring shades of Louis Armstrong and Hoagy Carmichael with the real-life inspirations offered us by Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan Arntzen, Rossano Sportiello, Frank Tate and someone holding a video camera — on December 22, 2016, at Luca’s Jazz Corner (1712 First Avenue, New York City).  There are no artistic or audible flaws in this video, but there are a few seconds where the focus blurs.  I wasn’t trying out new special effects, but the bright light from above confused the camera’s little brain.  However, blessedly, the sound is unaltered.  Hear for yourself:

Here is more evidence of the cosmic happiness that took place that night: RUNNIN’ WILD and FINE AND DANDY.  Incidentally, a young musician (I believe he plays trumpet) named Wynton Marsalis came in for the second set.  I am sure that he inspired the band, but I am even more sure that this delicious quartet inspired him as well.  As they did me.

Jon-Erik will be bringing a quartet back to Luca’s on March 23, 2017.  I plan and hope to be there.  You should come too.  (Other heroes — Gabrielle Stravelli, Michael Kanan, Pat O’Leary, and Ken Peplowski — have gigs coming up.)

May your happiness increase!

WHEN BEAUTY IS THE ONLY WAY: ABIGAIL RICCARDS and MICHAEL KANAN

When the soul needs solacing, anti-inflammatories from the bathroom medicine chest just won’t do.  I present two you two deep practitioners of the healing arts: Abigail Riccards and Michael Kanan. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing and hearing the two of them in duet only twice, but each time remains memorable.  Here are two songs from their recitals that are especially soulful: we need such balm.

Even though this performance begins whimsically — Abigail’s impromptu version of NAME THAT TUNE, with Michael as the sole contestant — it quickly becomes an unforgettable expression of quiet longing:

Abigail continues to make music of the most lovely kind in Chicago; Michael is simultaneously in New York and touring the world. Together or singly, they improve our world.

May your happiness increase!

TED BROWN AT 89: SIMPLY BEAUTIFUL

Through the kindness of pianist Michael Kanan, I’ve been introduced to the music of people I might not otherwise have met.  One of them is the soft-spoken and gently lyrical tenor saxophonist Ted Brown.

ted-party

And because of the inventive and much younger saxophonist Brad Linde, there have been celebrations of Ted’s birth: I’ve been at number 85, 88, and the most recent one, Ted’s 89th, on December 3, 2016.  The celebrants pictured above are Brad and Ted, Aaron Quinn, guitar; Frank Canino, string bass; Jeff Brown, drums. Other musicians in the house were Stephanie Greig, Nick Lyons, Jon De Lucia, Caroline Davis, and Elijah Shiffer — as well as some whom I haven’t met yet.

There was cake (also courtesy of Brad).

ted-cake

But more importantly, there was music.  Cake is eaten; music lasts.  And the approving shade of Lester Young was in the room.

LESTER LEAPS IN:

POUND CAKE:

YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO / FEATHER BED:

YARDBIRD SUITE:

Bless Ted Brown and his friends for making such beauty so generously available.

May your happiness increase!