After a week of decidedly avant-garde recordings that glance off the side walls of contemporary jazz, Nicholas Brust and his latest album, Frozen in Time, are a needed respite. Referred to as a “premiere saxophonist of his generation,” Brust has that smoky, sexy way of playing the sax that will sound familiar to most jazz fans–his notes are long, extended and heartfelt, just like words. It’s a moody sound, one that speaks of big cities and open windows and the gentle breezes that can be persuaded to drop by for a cup of coffee.
That’s not to say Nicholas Brust takes the easy way out with his playing, or his compositions and arrangements. That sweet tone of his is usually employed as an open window as well, one that encourages you to follow his themes and ideas into a thoughtful, somewhat dreamy world where you might learn a few truths. Brust’s quintet–guitarist Ben Eunson, pianist Tuomo Uusitalo, bassist Josh Allen and drummer Jay Sawyer–all have a secret weapon at their disposal to bring out the dense and complex moods. It might be a lush turn at the cymbals with a brush that paints and animates the sound like a blossom, or it might be a guitar run that takes a quick run though psychedelia. It’s easy, and yet it’s not.
Nicholas Brust might just be a “premier” sax player based solely on the company he keeps. You might recognize Tuomo Uusitalo from his stunning 2019 album Stories from Here and There, one of my favorite jazz releases from last year. and Brust has also studied with the great Miguel Zenon. Perhaps that’s why you need to stop and listen carefully to Frozen in Time–Brust hangs out with some of the most original and adventurous talents on the scene, so his melodic and luxuriant style should not be taken for granted. He’s up to something.
That makes Nicholas Brust a composer that can be enjoyed on multiple levels. Sure, he can be that respite from the difficult music I’ve mentioned, a soothing antidote to some thing or another, but I also appreciate how Brust is using the sax to coax you onto his stage and tell you something you haven’t heard. It’s as if one of your favorite movie stars from long ago suddenly started telling you about all the secrets of the universe. You just have to sit, listen and be open-minded about the jazz you’re going to hear.