Pianist Nick Sanders and saxophonist Logan Strosahl musical connection goes back to 2007 when they were both students at the New England Conservatory in Boston. Since that time Sanders has release a number of albums, including You Are Creature with bassist Henry Fraser and drummer Connor Baker. The three players played on Strosahl's musically eclectic debut album of this year, Up Go We.
The attitude of thinking of the entire canon of Western music to be "just music" upon which to improvise returns with Janus and the duo of Sanders and Strosahl; it must be admitted, that the case is strongly made.
The twelve relatively short tracks (none break six minutes) fall into differing categories: newly composed, with some like "Allemande" and "Mazurka" in the style of a dance in the classical manner; jazz standards originally done, but within "the tradition" and improvisations on Classical music ranging from the 14th century (Guillaume Machaut's "Rose, liz, printemps, verdure") through the 18th century (François Couperin's "Les Amusemens") and finally the 20th century (Olivier Messiaen's "Vingt regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus" ).
The stylistic breadth of the music is awesome, but it would be a mistake to think that Sanders and Strosahl are showing off. They obviously know each other very well, and are as tight as any duo you will hear. While ears attuned to "jazz as style" might be shocked by the rhythms and harmonic movement of "Allemande" or "Mazurka," (the "style"), what happens in and around the stylistic markers is fascinating and quite adept. "Be-Bop Tune" exposes just how cliched that period of jazz could be, and yet it still works.
The standards ("Thelonious," "Old Folks" and "Stardust") are quite deeply felt, but also with many "out" excursions that mark the limits of that kind of playing. Arguably, the deepest and most arresting music are the three Classical pieces. There is some overdubbing early on in the Machaut, and once the stylistic period is set, Sanders and Strosahl deconstruct it to great affect. The Couperin piece is a elegant as the original, showing once again that improvisation can happen within any style. The original Messiaen piece is a two-hour set of twenty pieces, and what is put together here really taps in to original mood, with improvisations by Strosahl over the booming piano which show how much modern jazz and modern Classical music intertwine.
The flow of the album's pieces never rest stylistically, and there is something for everybody as long as the "anything goes" aesthetic is enlarged to include the various Classical periods referenced. The superficial feeling of the intellectual ends up disappearing with familiarity, and becomes acceptance.
The title tune, "Janus" kind of says it all boppish but not really of that period as the duo expands their language to bring it into today's modern playing. Looking in two directions, Sanders and Strosahl really merge the past and the present in what must be considered a tour de force.
Sigma; Allemande; Thelonious; Be-Bop Tune; Rose, Liz, Printemps, Verdure; Mazurka;
Old Folks; Selections From Vingt Regards Sur L'EnfantJesus; Janus; Stardust; Les
Nick Sanders: piano; Logan Strosahl: alto and tenor saxophones.