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Sam Braysher –‘That’s Him: The Music of Kurt Weill

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    Posted: 14 Jun 2024 at 6:42am
Award-winning alto saxophonist Sam Braysher is about to release his latest album, That’s Him: The Music of Kurt Weill, exploring ten of this fascinating composer’s lesser-known tunes. The album launch is on 1 July at Pizza Express in Soho. Feature by Kai Hoffman 
SAM BRAYSHER - Thats Him : the music of Kurt Weill cover

With two previous releases recorded abroad, Sam Braysher’s hand-picked fellow performers for his first UK-based album include rising star Hungarian pianist Matyas Gayer (Eddie Henderson, Jim Rotondi), ultra-swinging drummer Steve Brown (Scott Hamilton, Barry Harris), and in-demand Italian bassist Dario di Lecce (Stacey Kent, Grant Stewart). Featuring on three tracks is the brilliant Sara Dowling (Best Vocalist, British Jazz Awards 2019).

Some tracks feature the delicately arranged re-working of a verse or harmonic structure, while other tunes have been given a more spontaneous treatment by this stellar cast of UK musicians. Sam Braysher explains: “I knew I wanted to do a themed album, but getting into Kurt Weill was a gradual thing for me. Over the past few years, I’ve gone deeper into the Great American Songbook, looking at the original sheet music, exploring the songs. There’s a lot to be found by studying the composer’s real intention; I think that often some of the detail gets lost if you only listen to jazz recordings, great as they are. I was also quite drawn to Kurt Weill as he had two sides to his career – the earlier, classical side when he was living in Germany and then the more commercial sound he created after emigrating to America.” 

Sam Braysher began his recording career with the brilliant duet album Golden Earrings (2016), recorded in New York City with pianist Michael Kanan (Jane Monheit). With the album lauded as “delightful and surprising” by Dave Gelly in The Observer, the experience of working with inspirational musician and educator Kanan still influences Braysher’s work today. “I’ve always enjoyed standards,” the saxophonist explains. “As I graduated from music college, I imagined myself focusing on original compositions, but I realised I was actually, in some ways, more at home playing existing repertoire; I really enjoy the process of finding unusual songs to interpret in an interesting, fresh way… obscure songs that haven’t been previously performed by jazz musicians. Meeting Michael Kanan was really influential, looking deeper at that material. There’s beauty and interest to be found by looking at the original sheets the composer wrote. Often there are extra details that get left out of jazz recordings, like the verse, the intricacies of a  melody, or a harmony that was in the original sheet music. I went to New York a number of times between 2014 to 2018.”

The first single on That’s Him: The Music of Kurt Weill is ‘The Right Guy For Me,’ featuring award-winning vocalist Sara Dowling. “It’s from an obscure 1938 Fritz Lang film called You and Me. I played through the sheet music and could immediately hear Sara singing it as an up-tempo swing,” Braysher says. “I think we are the first to record this in a jazz setting, but feel free to correct me.”  

Another notable feature on the album is ‘Liebeslied,’ which for Sam Braysher “encapsulates the more European classical side of Weill’s writing, fromThe Threepenny Opera with lyrics by Berthold Brecht. The harmony is amazing, and sounds quite different to the later American work he did. I wanted to capture some of that European classical flavour. There are also two songs on the album from Street Scene, an opera Weill wrote with Harlem renaissance poet and activist Langston Hughes: an instrumental version of ‘Moon Faced, Starry Eyed’ and the vocal ‘What Good Would the Moon Be’.  It’s quite an interesting work; Weill had this idea of writing an American opera, which would be a fusion of European opera traditions with the American musical.”

Braysher’s original tune on the album ‘Ships Adrift’ was written over the chord sequence and structure of ‘Speak Low,’ one of Kurt Weil’s better known standards. “I wrote this quite difficult melody for Matyas and I to play in unison and then improvised over the chords of ‘Speak Low’. I like to include one of my own originals on each album I record.”

London-based alto player Sam Braysher has recorded two previous albums internationally. That’s Him: The Music of Kurt Weill marks Braysher’s first UK release. “I wanted to document some more of the musical relationships I have formed in London over the last few years. All the people featured here with me are exceptional musicians, warm and generous people and great friends. The recording process felt incredibly relaxed this time.”

According to John Fordham at The Guardian, “Sam Braysher is a prizewinning investigator of the early recordings and published music of Jerome Kern, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington and many others, and imagines a new jazz closely attuned to an old world.”  With the impromptu nature and clarity you would get from a live recording, created here in a studio setting, this album is a triumph in which Sam Braysher has allowed “the takes to speak for themselves.” 

Originally from rural Norfolk, Sam Braysher was inspired during his early years by a local jazz piano teacher and the first album he was introduced to, Kind of Blue. He went on to graduate with first class honours from the Guildhall School of Music, as well as winning the Chartered Surveyors’ Prize.  As a sax player, Braysher cites influences including Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Lee Konitz and many more, but has certainly developed a unique sound, all his own, with this latest album That’s Him: The Music of Kurt Weill. 

from https://londonjazznews.com



Edited by snobb - 14 Jun 2024 at 6:43am
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