Lewis Nash (drums)
Steve Wilson (saxophones)
Sunday, April 9, 4 pm
Both Mr. Wilson and Mr. Nash have played for us before, in JazzNights 22, 62, and 72. Mr. Wilson and Mr. Nash were together here in Frank Kimbrough’s quartet in 2014, and Mr. Wilson brought his own quartet, “Wilsonian’s Grain” the next year. So many of you have heard them here already. But be prepared for something very different!
Of course duos are common in jazz, and JazzNights has presented many of them.* But saxophones and drums? No chordal instrument? Well I have heard these two gentlemen in New York in this format, and I can promise you that it works brilliantly. You can hear it for yourself; just pick up “Duologue” the pair’s 2014 CD, MCGJ1038. Ellington (Tizol, really), Dizzy, Fats, Ornette, two Monk medleys, and some Wilson originals.
“It’s a very direct way of playing. it’s like you and me speaking right now—our focus is solely on one person. That leads to some real honest improvising.”
Well Lewis is right. The pair uses space and silence to great effect, with each instrument demanding your attention. They somehow never, ever sound empty – there is a two-person orchestra in the room.
Steve Wilson, unfairly labeled the “quintessential sideman,” has emerged as one the leading alto saxophonists of our time and as a master of the difficult soprano saxophone. His rightful ascendance was marked by a week-long 50th birthday fest at the Jazz Standard that featured a long-lived quartet with Bruce Barth, Adam Cruz, and Ed Howard plus a lineup of stellar guests. I only made it to a couple of the events, but I vividly recall the quality of the music – often tunes Wilson wrote for friends – James Williams and Billy Childs for example - and that the room was filled with his fellow musicians – A fitting tribute.
Here’s Bruce Barth on Mr. Wilson:
"Even then, Steve's voice was identifiable, earthy and funky but also extremely sophisticated in terms of harmony and rhythm. We also shared a sensibility—a love of blues and swing but an equal commitment to staying wide open and in the moment."
Quote from Larry Blumenthal’s column in the Wall Street Journal, 2/7/2011
Drummer Lewis Nash’s roots are deep, and his education impeccable. He started at the age of 10 and by his early twenties was working with Sonny Stitt, Art Pepper, and Lee Konitz. In 1981, he began a four-year stint with Betty Carter, and there is no better education in jazz than Betty Carter University. In 1999, he became the drummer in the best of the Tommy Flanagan trios (Peter Washington was the bassist). This marvelous group was surely one of the best jazz trios of our times. The origins of today's jazz drumming go far back to one of the greatest drummers ever, the late Max Roach. The last of the giants who created modern jazz, Mr. Roach never lost sight of the need to keep the group balanced and propelled, but he surely was not content with that role. It was he, along with Kenny Clarke, who began the transformation of the drums from a timekeeping device into a melodic instrument. Lewis Nash, like Roach, is impeccable in his timekeeping, but at the same time always doing something that arrests your attention. It’s exciting work, demanding of the listener, not to mention the artist, but well worth the effort! Jazz drumming these days seems sometimes obsessed with what one might call “the permanent solo” style, surely an extension of what Mr. Roach began, but at times maybe just a tad over the top. Lewis Nash gets it exactly right, I think: always creative, always tasteful, always just the best at what he does. In a landscape chock-a-block with wonderful young drummers, Mr. Nash stands out as a model of “how to do it right.”
* A story: Early on in this series I was talking in the Curtis/Brodsky driveway to bassist Ray “Bulldog” Drummond after the gig. We had just finished a wonderful duo, Ray and pianist Renee Rosnes. I lamented our inability to present large groups, and the Dog looked at me as if I were crazy. “We never get to play like this, to interact one on one. Stay with the Duos!”