Nick Sanders and Logan Strosahl: Janus

By Richard Kamins
Pianist and composer Nick Sanders met saxophonist and composer Logan Strosahl 10 years ago when both were students at the New England Conservatory  of Music in Boston.  Sanders’ Trio has issued two acclaimed CDs on Sunnyside Records and served as the rhythm section for Strosahl’s 2015 debut for the label. 

“Janus” (Sunnyside) finds the duo in a playful mode playing program that includes classical works from 14th Century France, a work each from Thelonious Monk and Hoagy Carmichael, the standard “Old Folks”, pieces from Messiaen and Couperin, plus several originals.  Both musicians keep melody foremost even on up-tempo pieces such as “Be-Bop Tune”, an original credited to both of them.  Strosahl’s title composition finds him swinging a la Lee Konitz as Sander’s struts below him. The Monk tune, “Thelonious”, also jumps with glee with Sanders backing work a mash-up of various 20th Century styles, from boogie to swing to mainstream and on.  The tenor solo rises up from the melody and takes off on a sprightly romp.
“Mazurka”, also composed by the saxophonist, is an off-center waltz, plenty of stops and starts plus a splendid melody that both musicians play.  Strosahl overdubs alto and tenor for the opening section of “Rose, Liz, Printemps, Verdure” composed by Guillaume  de Machaut, a medieval composer and poet from France.  The interplay of piano and saxophone, especially in the closing minute as they both move through the melody contrapuntally, is such a delight.  Messiaen’s “Selections from Vingt Regards Sur L’Enfant Jesus” is darker yet more expansive, Strosahl’s tenor solo, gruff at times and sweet at others, moves through the thick piano chords.

“Stardust” features a “floating” piano accompaniment to Strosahl’s breathy tenor, sounding like both Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. The solos are so gentle, hewing close to the melody, with genuine emotion as opposed to schmaltz.  That leads into the album closer, the delightful “Les Amusemens” from François Couperin. The lovely baroque melody (the composer wrote in the late 17th and early decades of the 18th Centuries) has an intoxicating forward motion and the musicians play it with grace. 

“Janus” is an album that reminds one that good music is ageless and that musicians who approach with open minds and ears (and plenty of talent) can make it sound new again.  Nick Sanders and Logan Strosahl are that kind of musicians and this album does feel fresh and alive.  Buy a copy for yourself and give this recording as a gift because the music is so compelling and joyous.