IN MANY WAYS – and in the right, focused moment – the carefree eloquence and clear conversational flow of new duo album Stardust speaks volumes about the absolute empathy and trust shared by two stellar British jazz performers.
Career highlights, to date, of saxophonist Stan Sulzmann and longtime friend and colleague pianist Nikki Iles might keep you Googling and scrolling for some time. But here, all of that glittering experience is channelled into the most intimate of musical environments – an unadorned, hour-plus dialogue between tenor sax and piano. And it’s beautiful.
Sulzmann and Iles each offer one original work, with their compositional ‘guests’ including Hoagy Carmichael, George Gershwin, Burt Bacharach; and, above all, it’s the improvisational and harmonic elegance – frequently illuminating familiar, timeless melodies across acres of space – which is to be revelled in.
Classic Body & Soul is wonderfully luxurious here, with Stan’s rich tenor momentarily having us believe he’s also picked up alto or clarinet, such is the diversity of his range and timbres. Gershwin’s impassioned, drawling My Man’s Gone Now (from Porgy & Bess) is translated into a more measured blues as Sulzmann’s extemporisations cascade down through Iles’ delicious major/minor chords, characteristic sequences of fourths and delicate high lines; and initially echoing the restrained wistfulness of Bill Evans, Young and Foolish increasingly sparkles to Stan’s mellifluous tenor invention, as does the irrepressible optimism of I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry (away from the sentimentality of its Sinatra/Riddle association). And this nine-track treasury can also dance, with Jerome Kern’s Nobody Else But Me putting on a sprightly, swinging show.
Sulzmann’s references to Evans’ Some Other Time and Peace Piece can be heard in Nikki’s Corner – an affectionate, buoyant tribute to his pianist; and Iles reciprocates with Under The Canopy (from The Printmakers’ Westerly release of 2015), its warm, falling and rising melodies inviting Sulzmann to glide broadly and effortlessly across the pianist’s gentlest of samba rhythms. A perhaps lesser-known Bacharach tune, You’ll Never Get To Heaven, unveils its lyrical beauty with an especially limpid piano interlude; and the concluding title track arrangement of Hoagy Carmichael couldn’t be more lucid, delicate or assured.
Stardust is not so much a meteor shower spectacular, but rather a delightfully reassuring, crystal-encrusted, dark-sky panoply. And as you fix your attention, it magically reveals subtler, coruscating constellations.
Released on 25 January 2016. Available from Jellymould Jazz, record stores and online retailers.
Stan Sulzmann tenor saxophone
Nikki Iles piano
Jellymould Jazz – JM-JJ020 (2015)