Well then. A ‘saxophone summit’. Pretty epic title for a tour, I’d say. But bassist and bandleader Michael Janisch appears to know what he’s doing. And, to be fair, if saxophony was world politics, Nigel Hitchcock, Joel Frahm and Alex Garnett would probably be heading up the UN. The dictionary has summit as the ‘highest point’, and these three were not far off it on Thursday night at Pizza Express in Dean Street, Soho.
The interplay between the three was mesmerising to watch and to hear, but it was made so by the impressive backing of Janisch (bass), Steve Brown (drums) and Ross Stanley (piano). What was it that made the title ‘summit’ so apt for this performance? I’ve been thinking about that. Let’s not be so naive as to say these men are the best in the business, that is a statement far beyond me. Nonetheless it is a suitable title. So why? Let me have a stab at it, eh?
It is the comfort of the performers that makes a jazz performance more than just a show of instrumental prowess. It’s the screwed face, chewed bottom lip, the sheer enjoyment which the saxophonists found in each other’s creativity, that made this performance as suitable for its title as it was. It was the jokes between the performers- Hitchcock’s jokes about Garnett’s height (‘stand up, then’ Hitchcock remarked as Janisch introduced Garnett, who looked ever so slightly diminutive next to Frahm), or his subtle ‘look out’ as Janisch broke into the impressive bass intro of Stepping Lightly, a highlight for me.
It’s this sort of relaxed attitude of the musicians towards their own performance that makes a jazz show what it should be. The musicians’ pride in their new and fresh arrangements of classic jazz pieces, and the pieces that they had written themselves, show just how pleased they are to be on stage together, but what was also constantly evident was that they didn’t feel they had to prove themselves. They were all consistently comfortable, at ease with themselves, with the music, and with each other. Garnett’s ‘that’s about it, yeah?’ when setting the time for his own arrangements, show how thoroughly grounded these people are in their own ability. And when you’re watching people who are so assured of their own right to be on a stage, well, who on earth are any of us to argue?
Michael Janisch will be at the Pizza Express with the great LEE KONITZ on May 19 and 20