by Ian Mann
May 26, 2021
Braysher has carved out a niche for himself as a consistently inventive arranger and interpreter, but with regards to the performances this is very much a trio of equals.
Sam Braysher Trio
“Dance Little Lady, Dance Little Man”
Sam Braysher – alto saxophone, Tom Farmer – double bass, Jorge Rossy – drums, vibraphone, marimba
Sam Braysher is a young British alto saxophonist based in London. A graduate of the city’s Guildhall School of Music & Drama he made his recording début in 2017 with “Golden Earrings”, a duo album recorded in New York with the American pianist Michael Kanan.
“Golden Earrings” was the first recording on the Fresh Sound New Talent label by a British bandleader and the album was very well received. Braysher and Kanan later put a touring band together with the addition of bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer James Maddren. My review
of the “Golden Earrings” album can be found here;
A frequent award winner Braysher has performed with many leading British and European musicians including pianists Barry Green and Gabriel Latchin, vocalists Elaine Delmar and Sara Dowling, trumpeter Miguel Gorodi and saxophonist Pete Hurt. He has also been part of the John Warren Nonet and of the London Jazz Orchestra.
Perhaps unusually for a such a young musician Braysher has developed a deep interest in the repertoire of the ‘Great American Songbook’ and has investigated it deeply, both with his duo with Kanan and as the leader of his own trios and quartets. Braysher’s approach sees him turning to the original sheet music and lyrics and basing his arrangements on this, rather than on later wholly instrumental jazz interpretations. In this way he tries to understand and honour the aims and intentions of the original composer. It’s a method that has served him well, as both “Golden Earrings” and this new recording demonstrate.
The Barcelona based Fresh Sound New Talent released the début recordings of guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and pianists Brad Mehldau and Robert Glasper. I assume that it’s through this connection that Braysher first encountered the Catalan born drummer and percussionist Jorge Rossy, who is perhaps best known for his lengthy stint as drummer with the Brad Mehldau Trio in the 1990s and early 2000s.
The multi-talented Rossy has also worked with Rosenwinkel, pianists Chick Corea and Carla Bley, saxophonists Lee Konitz, Wayne Shorter, Mark Turner, Chris Cheek and Joshua Redman and trumpeter Tom Harrell. On anyone’s terms this list represents pretty exalted company and offers some idea of the enormity of Rossy’s talents. More recently he has been working in a trio with the Swiss musicians Yuri Storione (piano) and Dominik Schurmann (bass). Braysher first performed with Rossy as part of the international quintet REBOP, a group that saw Rossy specialising on vibraphone.
Rossy’s ability on tuned percussion helps to expand the sound of the Braysher trio and the album features one track with vibraphone and another with marimba.
The trio is completed by bassist Tom Farmer, like Braysher a Guildhall graduate, albeit one of a slightly earlier vintage. Farmer is perhaps best known as the bassist, and one of the principal composers, of the collaborative quartet Empirical, a group that have featured many times on the Jazzmann web pages. As a versatile and in demand sideman Farmer has worked with a wide array of other musicians, among them guitarist Ant Law, pianists Ivo Neame, Jason Rebello, John Law and Gabriel Latchin and sitar player Anoushka Shankar. He has also been a member of the bands Dice Factory and Magpie Trio.
With regard to his chosen instrumental line up and his selection of material for this new album Braysher remarks;
“It was a real honour to record with Jorge and Tom, both of whom I have looked up to for a long time. As always, I have tried to choose an interesting selection of tunes for this set, including some that are rarely played by jazz musicians, although I hope a few of these might at least sound familiar. With the Great American Songbook material in particular I aimed to learn it deeply by consulting the original sheet music where possible and learning the lyrics. The three of us have a multitude of influences between us, but when preparing these arrangements I was vaguely thinking about the approaches to standard material of Sonny Rollins (especially on the album ‘The Sound of Sonny’), Thelonious Monk and Ahmad Jamal.”
Braysher’s liner notes also give valuable insights into the inspirations behind the individual track selections.
First up is “For Regulars Only”, written by tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon for his 1961 Blue Note album “Doin’ Alright”. “We play the eight bar intro as a ‘tag’ between solos” explains Braysher. The trio channel the spirits of Gordon and Rollins on this upbeat opener, with Braysher soloing fluently above the flexible grooves laid down by Farmer and Rossy. The star drummer also injects plenty of colour into the proceedings, especially during a series of playful drum breaks.
Written by Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser “Heart and Soul” is a song that is rarely heard these days. Braysher takes his cue from recordings by pianists Bud Powell and Barry Harris, but puts his own stamp on it in this saxophone trio format. The intro though is familiar, a simple motif often taught to fledgling pianists. “It’s a nice form to improvise over” explains Braysher as he stretches out over Farmer’s loping bass groove and Rossy’s increasingly colourful drumming.
Farmer takes his first solo of the set, emphasising that he’s an integral part of this extremely well balanced trio.
Braysher doesn’t shy away from familiar material and proves himself capable of bringing something fresh and inventive to even the most hackneyed of standards. Take the ‘done to death’ “One Note Samba” for instance, which sees Braysher breathing fresh life into the piece and avoiding all the usual cocktail lounge bossa nova clichés. “There’s something deceptively hard about improvising over its chord sequence” he explains, “it’s a challenge to not feel boxed in by the harmony and the form”. Of course Braysher rises to the challenge magnificently, aided in no small measure by the rhythmic inventiveness of Farmer and Rossy.
“Some Other Spring” was written by the pianist and composer Irene Kitchings, in conjunction with the lyricist Arthur Herzog Jr.. Kitchings used to write for Billie Holiday and her repertoire also includes the ballad “Ghost of Yesterday”. Today she has become something of a forgotten figure, which is a shame. Braysher and the trio serve her legacy well with this beautiful ballad rendition, featuring the leader’s fluent, subtly blues tinged alto and the luminous shimmer of Rossy’s vibes, all subtly underpinned by Farmer’s grounding bass.
Braysher’s own “Pinxtos” is the only original on the recording. It is actually a ‘contrafact’ with a new melody written over the chord sequence of Cole Porter’s “From This Moment On”. The title refers to a culinary speciality from Bilbao, the city where Braysher first had the idea for the tune’s distinctive bass figure. Indeed its the combination of bass and drums that usher the piece in, instantly raising the energy levels after the previous ballad performance. There’s a real vibrancy about the playing here with Farmer’s agile but muscular bass acting as the fulcrum for the playful exchanges between Braysher and Rossy, and the saxophonist’s later solo, which sees him lithely stretching out above a hugely propulsive bass and drum groove.
“Little White Lies” comes from the repertoire of the prolific American songwriter Walter Donaldson (1893 – 1947), the composer of many familiar hit songs. Apparently this one was later a favourite of John Lennon’s. Braysher’s arrangement introduces an Afro-Cuban element and again deploys the device of a ‘tag’ between solos. It’s an energetic performance, with Braysher’s elongated melody lines complemented by Rossy’s inventive and brilliantly detailed drumming, all shored up by Farmer’s authoritative bass lines. Farmer also enjoys his own moment in the spotlight as the piece progresses, while Rossy chatters away merrily behind the kit.
“The Sweetest Sounds” represents a rarity from the pen of Richard Rodgers, a piece for which he wrote both the music and the words. It’s introduced by Farmer’s bass and the patter of Rossy’s hands on skins before Braysher picks up the melody. The saxophonist keeps things pretty straight before handing the reins back to Farmer for an extended bass feature that also includes a series of melodic exchanges with the leader’s alto. Braysher then probes a little more deeply before the piece draws to a close.
Credited to Matthew Wilder and David Zippel “Reflection” is sourced from the 1998 Disney film “Mulan”. As Braysher explains the trio play the melody through once, with no solos. At a little over two and a half minutes in duration it’s an atmospheric miniature with the pure sound of the leader’s alto augmented by the sounds of Farmer’s bass and Rossy’s cymbal shimmers and mallet rumbles.
“It’s quite different from the material I’d normally play, but I have a bit of a soft spot for this song”, Braysher explains.
The album takes its title from a line in the song “Shall We Dance”, written by the Gershwin brothers for the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie of the same name. The 1937 film contains several other hit songs and the trio’s version of the title song is suitably light on its feet with Braysher’s sax dancing nimbly around Farmer’s rapid bass walk and Rossy’s busy and colourful drum performance, which incorporates a series of impishly playful breaks.
“This Nearly Was Mine” comes from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “South Pacific”. Braysher’s unusual waltz arrangement features Rossy on marimba and Farmer on both pizzicato and arco bass. The marimba brings a very contemporary quirkiness to the music while Farmer’s bowed bass adds an appropriate sense of melancholy. Braysher plays the melody with a cool elegance.
The album closes with a brief but bright and playful take on “Walking The Dog”, a piece of incidental music written by George Gershwin for the aforementioned Fred and Ginger movie “Shall We Dance”. Braysher explains that he likes to play this as a set closer, announcing the names of the musicians over the vamp in the middle. In this recorded version Rossy performs a short, but idiosyncratic feature instead. It’s a delightful way to round off a very enjoyable album.
Once again Braysher has attracted considerable acclaim for his inventive settings of a range of largely well known tunes. His arrangements manage to remain close to the spirit of the originals but still find something fresh to say about them. In the main they are bright and playful, Braysher may like to have fun with his chosen material but his very obvious love of his sources shines through at all times. There are no artful deconstructions or all out ‘piss takes’ here.
Braysher’s pure, almost vibrato-less tone has been variously compared with Paul Desmond, Lee Konitz and Art Pepper but his sound is very much his own and he proves to be a fluent and imaginative soloist. Farmer and Rossy also play brilliantly throughout and both make huge contributions to the success of the album, which was recorded at Rossy’s studio in Spain in 2019. These may be Braysher’s arrangements but with regard to the performances this is very much a trio of equals.
Some reviewers have suggested that they would like to hear more of Braysher’s originals, which is something I would certainly be partial to, but there’s no doubt that he has carved out a niche for himself as a consistently inventive arranger and interpreter. Whichever direction he decides to pursue next it will never be less than interesting.
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