Stan Sulzmann and Nikki Iles ‘Stardust’ (Jellymould) 4/5

stan-sulzmann-nikki-iIlesSuccessful piano and saxophone duets are extremely difficult to pull off and historically one thinks of Mal Waldron and Steve Lacy, or more recently Hank Jones and Joe Lovano for examples of partnerships that have worked. What comes across in this refreshing and indeed invigorating new reworking of standards is that tenorist Stan Sulzmann and pianist Nikki Iles have a natural empathy for one another and ideally complement one another. It takes genuine skill and endeavour (not to say a good deal of experience) to attempt this kind of recording, retaining the listener’s attention throughout and the duets work for the entire album. A personal favourite is the lovely Coltranesque tone adopted by Sulzmann on the opener, ‘Nikki’s corner’, with Iles contribution evoking Bill Evans and this is an absolute joy from start to finish. Contrast this with the introspective treatment of ‘Young and foolish’ which features a passionate solo by Sulzmann who adds just the right amount of restricted passion and this is matched by a delicate solo from Iles. Sulzmann in particular here extracts the maximum amount of the tune and this is a sheer delight. The relaxed reading of ‘Body and Soul’ includes a lovely intro by Sulzmann who is in a most relaxed mode while Iles offers up a gentle solo. In general, there is a maturity to the playing who both combine to fill in the spaces beautifully. This is unquestionably one of the most enjoyable listening albums of the year so far and the pair should seriously think of recording together in a live context.

Tim Stenhouse