Music Ramble, by David Royko
Jazz/Classical melding has gone on almost since jazz began, with the likes of John Lewis, Jacques Loussier, and Gunther Schuller providing modern, high-profile examples of different stripes from both sides of the fence. But that barrier has become less a security wall than a quaint picket as time has passed. It used to be far less frequent that jazz guys knew as much about classical as they did jazz, and vice versa, even if both loved and respected the other. It probably has as much to do with basic accessibility (the internet and digital distribution) as the saturation of conservatoire jazz training, but these days, it's more than lip service when you hear a pro from either camp lauding other genres.
Still, I did a double take when I saw Messiaen's Vingt Regards included on the new duets album by pianist Nick Sanders and saxophonist Logan Strosahl. This isn't a sax/piano duet disc like the Stan Getz/Kenny Baron classics, that's for sure. Not that they don't do a great job with pedigreed straight jazz -- Monk's "Thelonious" gets hung out on the clothesline for a freshening breeze-through, though I still can't stand the Robison/Hill saccharine and cloying standard, Old Folks -- sorry. But their originals are just that -- original, and engaging, particularly "Sigma," and the title track -- substantial modern music but thoroughly accessible.
But their forays into the classical repertoire are just as convincing, particularly the Messiaen. Actually, I wasn't so sure on first hearing. The "excerpts," as they put it (from Regards 4, 1 and 10 in that order), are from Messiaen's massive, 2-hour masterpiece, inspired by the baby Jesus, and these sections happen to be among my favorites of the twenty Regards -- some of the most inward, meditative and deeply ecstatic of them, or anyone's piano works. Strosahl's improvising struck me on first hearing as too busy and dark for the music, maybe more appropriate for some of the agitated Regards, though I figured jazz is about self expression, so OK. But after a few more spins, they made me hear a potential undercurrent of foreboding in these particular pieces that I hadn't before -- I mean, Jesus didn't have the easiest life coming up. It imbued the music's white light with a rich, dark hue that paralleled its profundity in an original yet respectful manner. Count me as won over.
Anyway, this is music that should please many jazz fans, and surprise a few classical mavens too. If you are a fan of both, well, even better.