It is 20 years since saxophonist Stan Sulzmann and pianist Nikki Iles recorded their first album together. What have they been doing in the meantime that has kept them so busy? Well, of course, both have made other albums, played in many bands, and done a lot of teaching, Both are now on the staff of the Royal Academy of Music. But it’s good to have them back together again.
This is an intimate and modest affair – that latter adjective reflecting perhaps the manner of these two exceptional musicians who nevertheless keep their self-promotion on the gentle side – and finds them, tenor saxophone and piano beneath the fingers, eyes, hearts and minds fixed firmly on the melodic and harmonic riches to be found in the Great American Songbook, with the exception of an original from each.
Iles suggests in the liner notes that her first lessons in accompaniment came from the Bill Evans/Tony Bennett albums – she and Sulzmann play Young And Foolish here which was also one of the outstanding results of the Evans/Bennett collaboration – and her ability to support a lead instrument whether in the head or a solo has always been outstanding.
Just as Stan must be on cloud nine to have Nikki behind him, so Nikki must love having Stan there – he is just as impeccable in his note choices, his line always picking its way through the harmonic riches of these classic songs in an original path.
Sulzman’s clear and shining tone – he plays tenor exclusively on this album – suggests to my ears that he is playing high on the instrument even when he isn’t. That slightly keening quality finds its perfect match on a tune like I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry (add Iles’ beautifully judged accompaniment and lovely solo, and you have the album’s highpoint). And his way of finding ever fresh ways through the familiar is just what an old tenor warhorse like Body And Soul needs.
Iles’ composition Under The Canopy – familiar from the band she leads with Norma Winstone, Printmakers – shows its solid architecture even more clearly when reduced to this duo format.
A charming album to enjoy over a cuppa – it has that kind of unassuming friendliness about it.
- Nikki Iles and Stan Sulzman are playing at various venues round the country in the summer. Full details are on Nikki’s website here and Stan’s here.
Categories: CD review