‘Stardust’ – Stan Sulzmann, Nikki Iles

Stardust

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

stansulzmann.co.uk
nikkiiles.co.uk

Jellymould Jazz – JM-JJ020 (2015)

‘Between Shadows’ – Reuben Fowler

BetweenShadows

FROM THE very first horns entry, this debut album from Kenny Wheeler Prize-winning trumpeter/composer Reuben Fowler announces its clear intent – contemporary big band artistry of significant stature!

Only a short time since graduation from the Royal Academy of Music, and just a handful of years from picking up his instrument as a teenager, Fowler has mustered an incredible line-up of musicians to play out the creativity that seemingly gushes from his passion for this field of jazz! The personnel is on outstanding form, boasting such names as Stan Sulzmann, Jim Hart, Tom Harrell, George Crowley, with Dave Hamblett (drums) and Matt Robinson (piano and Rhodes).

Opening number ‘Too Minor’ (written by the late Richard Turner) is an absolute tour de force, brimming with confidence and impetus, building in energy and complexity as it progresses. The mellow ‘Holness’, with George Crowley leading both smoothly and lithely on clarinet, is introduced with tight brass harmonies which then extend out into lush scoring for the whole band. Indeed, the writing is exceptional throughout this album – accessible, yet overflowing with ideas which twist and turn away from the conventional (not unlike Dave Holland’s large-scale projects).

‘Dundry (for JGB)’, written for alto sax soloist James Gardiner-Bateman and referencing his south-of-Bristol residence, presents a ten-minute groove-driven stand-out track, with Hart’s vibes and Alex Munk’s guitar suggesting a landscape more Manhattan than Somerset (Fowler & Hutch, maybe?!), complete with brassy crescendos. It just pulls you under its spell, with Tom Harrell’s flugelhorn the perfect Hubbard-like lead, and Gardiner-Bateman providing a wonderfully jarring sax line – magnificent right through to its TV theme tune close!

The five-part suite ‘Between Shadows’ neatly incorporates an exquisite arrangement of ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’, the tempo eventually changing up a gear to showcase ravishing improvisations including that of trombonist, Robbie Harvey, backed by Jim Hart. Voices add another dimension to ‘The Lost’ and ‘The Lost and the Found’ (gorgeous tone from Brigitte Beraha), with Stan Sulzmann embellishing brightly on soprano – and Fowler plays flugel so assuredly and sensitively beyond his years. Tenor player Joe Wright features on ‘Ending’, drawing this generous release (recorded in just two days) to a close.

We are told that the pieces in the suite ‘Between Shadows’ are a response to poetry which suggests ‘something special, to cherish’. That is certainly the case here, and Reuben Fowler deserves all the accolades that are sure to come his way – firstly, for his compositional maturity, and then for the achievement of masterminding such an accomplished and illustrious group of musicians to breathe life into his music.

As is the Edition Records way, the production is crystal clear, capturing the detail from the full range of dynamics to present this big band in all its glory. A real winner of an album, which is launched at The Forge, London, 25 July 2013.

Edition Records – EDN1042 (2013)