Sam Braysher, alto saxophone
Michael Kanan, piano
This was an exquisite evening of music-making. In some circles, the label ‘chamber jazz’ has become an unhelpful catch-all for improvised music that doesn’t entirely conform to expectations, especially when bass and drums are absent. And yet, pared down to the essentials of instrumental interplay, a piano-saxophone duet restores us to the jazz fundamentals, since it demands the highest standards from both players and a kind and degree of attentiveness not often required of a jazz audience. The fact that the set was played acoustically added a sense of an intimate musical space—and both musicians filled it beautifully.
Michael Kanan’s technique might best be described as refined. He played with utter grace, clarity and precision. This was thoughtful playing which lost none of the tension of improvisational challenge for being with such openness and deft care. Of course, most (but by no means all) of the numbers were well rehearsed, but it was still jazz first and foremost and the gentle push-and-pull of two improvising musicians was both visible and audible. In fact, at the end of one number which crash-landed, Michael joked, ‘You know when musical partners are well in synch when they both make the same mistake at the same time.’
Sam Braysher’s alto recalled Lee Konitz by dint of his very long (but never meandering) melodic lines. His tone was at the lighter end of the alto’s many voices, the better not to overwhelm the material, much of it drawn from the Great American songbook. There were also some lesser-known and entirely welcome numbers which don’t get an airing often enough. In the second set, Sam’s alto had a more burnished tone and his playing was a bit more insistent. He and Michael played as a true partnership—the lyricism of the melodies finding particularly beguiling expression in the way their two voices intertwined.
But the music wasn’t all 1930s and 40s sweetness and romance: there was also space for Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, which revealed in both players a kind of coiled musical strength that was more than up to the mark in intricate, fast-paced and oblique material. They ended with ‘Way Down Yonder in New Orleans’ in which the rapid-fire exchanges were an utter delight—apparently for Michael and Sam no less than for the audience. This was an evening of delights, combining superb technique and genuine feeling. It was immensely satisfying.