Nick Sanders & Logan Strosahl ‘Janus’ (Sunnyside) 4/5

These are both new names to me and so a little research is required.
Pianist/composer Sanders lives in Brooklyn, New York. He was raised in New Orleans and is a graduate of the New England Conservatory in Boston. He has released two previous albums on Sunnyside Record, both of which were produced by Fred Hersch.
Strosahl is a saxophonist/composer. He was born in 1989 in Seattle, Washington. He trained as a jazz musician. He now focusses not only on jazz and free-improvisation but also contemporary classical music and Renaissance and Baroque composers.
In Roman mythology Janus was a God – a God of time, with two faces, one looking forward in time, the other looking back. This exemplifies the music on offer here. On the one hand the performers look forward with their twenty-first century originals, on the other they look back to an era of fourteenth and eighteenth century sounds and including some twentieth century jazz standards for good measure. Music seems to have no boundaries for these two. Improvisation can happen in any genre of music.

Sanders and Strosahl met at University at Boston’s New England Conservatory some ten years ago. Performing as a duo, the seeds of the idea for this album were sewn. Both performers are accomplished improvisers. Over the years they have built up an almost telepathic interplay in the same way that Bill Evans and Jim Hall did many years before them.
Variety is the keynote here. The barbed ‘Sigma’ written by Sanders opens the set, the stately ‘Allemande’ from Strosahl follows, with the frisky, fun-loving ‘Thelonious’ hot on its heels. A little later we are treated to an interpretation of music from Olivier Messiaen – intense, caliginous with a repeating, almost sinister tolling piano note. Enthusiastic liveliness is the hallmark of the title track, coming from the pen of Strosahl. Then, along comes Hoagy Carmichael’s classic ‘Stardust’ and the mood changes to that of a late-night jazz bar. I’m reminded, here, of the Edward Hopper oil painting ‘Nighthawks’.

This is a well recorded and well executed project and is clearly a labour of love for the participants, who together take the listener on an epic expedition through the highways and byways of distinctive and wide-ranging source material.
I do have a preference for the familiar standards and the duo work their magic on ‘Old Folks’ with the saxophonist “singing” the melody. It’s almost as if the performers were transporting the listener back to the 1930’s here.

The virtuosity of these two musicians is never in dispute and their musical reciprocation is certainly helped by having worked together for so many years. Their repertoire is wide-ranging but ultimately, for me, the coexistence of so many musical styles left me feeling somewhat unsettled.

Alan Musson