by Ian Mann
March 22, 2018
Their performances offer evidence of a genuine and profound love of the music they have chosen and they perform it with great sensitivity, emphasising the melodic content of the songs.
Sam Braysher with Michael Kanan
(Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT 1007)
Sam Braysher is a young British alto saxophonist and a graduate of the Jazz Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. A frequent award winner he has performed with many leading British and European musicians including drummer Jorge Rossy, pianist Barry Green and saxophonist Pete Hurt. He has also been part of the John Warren Nonet and the London Jazz Orchestra.
Unusually for such a young player he has an abiding interest in the ‘Great Amercian Songbook’ and he has explored the repertoire as the leader of his own trio and quartet. His début recording pairs him with the American pianist Michael Kanan and is a duo recording that investigates lesser known material from the ‘Songbook’ and bebop canons and includes just one original composition.
Kanan is an experienced musician who has accompanied vocalists such as Jimmy Scott and Jane Monheit and collaborated with leading instrumentalists such as the guitarists Peter Bernstein and Kurt Rosenwinkel. He is a real authority on the Songbook repertoire and his knowledge and sensitivity make him the ideal partner for the young Braysher.
Released in September 2017 “Golden Earrings” was recorded at The Drawing Room in Brooklyn, New York by engineer Neal Miner. It appears on the Barcelona based Fresh Sound New Talent imprint, the label that released the début recordings of Rosenwinkel, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and pianists Brad Mehldau and Robert Glasper. It is the first album release on the label by a British bandleader.
The album was recorded over the course of two days with the duo adopting an approach that Braysher describes as “fairly old-fashioned, just three microphones in a room with a nice piano, no headphones and no edits”. The result is a refreshingly intimate recording that gives the music a very human feel. One can hear the sounds of Braysher’s breath and of his hands on the keypads, this is essentially an unadorned ‘live in the studio’ performance that hasn’t been polished up too much. It’s very much a case of ‘what you see (or hear) is what you get’.
Braysher explains his fascination with his chosen material, and his approach to it, thus;
“Like most jazz musicians of my generation I have been introduced to this type of repertoire through listening to and playing jazz, rather then growing up with it as pop music as, say, Sonny Rollins would have done. 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 have tried to use this as our starting point for interpretation and improvisation, rather than existing jazz versions”.
He also comments on the difference between Rollin’s performance of the standard “If Ever I Would Leave You” and the Lerner and Loewe song in its original form. That song doesn’t actually appear here but if it did it would be the original song that Braysher and Kanan would take as their starting point. This album is all about bringing out the beauty and musicality of the songs as originally written, while casting them in a contemporary light.
Braysher’s liner notes also shed light on each of the individual album performances beginning with “Dancing in the Dark”, written by Arthur Schwartz and Harold Dietz. Here Kanan takes the melody while Braysher provides a countermelody that draws its inspiration both from the original sheet music and the dramatic orchestral arrangement that Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse danced to in the film “The Band Wagon”. Braysher’s tone is pure and his playing uncluttered and free of vibrato, while there’s an agreeable dryness about his sound that prevents the performance from drifting into sentimentality. He and Kanan tackle the piece as equal partners of a genuine duo, rather than as soloist as accompanist, an approach that continues to define the album as a whole.
As an alto player it’s perhaps not surprising that Braysher includes a Charlie Parker piece in his repertoire. “Cardboard” allows the young saxophonist to demonstrate his bebop chops in a series of playful, technically dazzling exchanges with Kanan, their individual lines snaking and intertwining around each other in a process that Braysher describes as “soloing together”.
The third piece is an “Irving Berlin Waltz Medley” that finds the duo linking three of the composer’s best known compositions “What’ll I Do”, Always” and “Remember”, pieces that Braysher describes as “three beautifully simple songs”. The duo play “What’ll I Do” fairly straight as a jazz waltz before breaking down into their component parts for the first time as “Always” is performed solo by Kanan at the piano, his approach lyrical and uncomplicated, retaining the essential beauty of the piece. The pair link up again for “Remember”, inspired by Hank Mobley’s recording of the tune on the classic album “Soul Station” but here delivered in its original form and totally in character with the rest of the medley.
“BSP” is the one Braysher original, but even this is a contrafact, a new melody written over an existing chord sequence, in this case that of Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale”. Inspired by the music of pianist Lennie Tristano and saxophonists Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh this is essentially a new composition, one which again allows Braysher the opportunity to demonstrate his ‘bop chops’. There’s also an impressive passage of syncopated solo piano from Kanan plus a fleeting glimpse of Porter’s original melody.
“All Too Soon” is a Duke Ellington tune that was originally performed by the edition of the band that included saxophonist Ben Webster and bassist Jimmy Blanton. The piece later became a song with the addition of lyrics by Carl Sigman. This performance begins with a passage of unaccompanied alto from Braysher and there’s also an episode of solo piano mid tune but this is still a beautiful duo performance, one that emits a beautifully nostalgic blues tinged warmth.
Kanan introduces an arrangement of Jerome Kern’s “In Love In Vain”, which combines elements from the original sheet music with additions introduced by the orchestrators of the soundtrack for the film “Centennial Summer”, in which the song appears. He’s joined by Braysher for a statement of Kern’s verse before going it alone once more with another pithy passage of solo piano. The two musicians then combine again delightfully on the main body of the song prior to a coda that draws on the film soundtrack.
Braysher describes the Tadd Dameron tune “The Scene Is Clean” as “probably the most harmonically dense composition to feature here”. He and Kanan seem to relish the opportunity to navigate its “mysterious corners” in a vivacious performance that exhibits great technical virtuosity as the pair dance around each other. Kanan then stretches out with a lively passage of solo piano before the two come together to coalesce as a duo once more. Braysher acknowledges the performance of the tune by a band co-led by trumpeter Clifford Brown and drummer Max Roach as a significant influence.
“Beautiful Moons Ago” is a little known Nat ‘King’ Cole song which the pianist and vocalist co-wrote with his guitarist Oscar Moore. Delivered here as a lyrical, achingly lovely ballad the title of the song is embodied by the duo’s sensitive performance. Kanan’s playing is particularly beautiful, largely by virtue of its sheer economy as the duo combine to distil the essence of the song.
The title track was written by Victor Young in conjunction with lyricists Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. “Golden Earrings” appeared in the 1947 film of the same name and the song was later a hit for Peggy Lee. The duo bring out the full beauty of Young’s haunting melody and classically inspired harmonies in a beautifully controlled performance that serves the music faithfully.
Finally the duo put a fresh slant on the song “Way Down Yonder In New Orleans”, a piece that is usually the province of trad and Dixieland bands. Clocking in at just under two minutes it’s all very brief but does feature the pair doubling up to perform Lester Young’s 1938 solo in unison.
Braysher and Kanan have attracted considerable acclaim for their sensitive and highly skilled adaptations of their selected material. Their performances offer evidence of a genuine and profound love of the music they have chosen and they perform it with great sensitivity, emphasising the melodic content of the songs. There is no grandstanding here, even on the sprinkling of bebop numbers which offer the musicians the opportunity to showcase something of their undoubted virtuosity.
On first listening one might think that Braysher was playing it safe by choosing to make an album of Songbook standards and bebop classics but his treatment of them is actually very fresh and innovative, particularly in a jazz context. Indeed for a young player Braysher is adopting an approach that is the opposite of ‘safe’ in that he sounds very different to most other young saxophonists with their concentration on complex original material and virtuoso, hard edged soloing.
It’s a change from my usual preferred listening but I found myself becoming more and more immersed in this often beautiful recording.
Braysher and Kanan have toured this material in a quartet setting with the addition of bass and drums. Braysher is currently touring with a trio featuring bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer James Maddren. For more on Braysher’s musical activities please visit http://www.sambraysher.comblog comments powered by Disqus