by Sylvannia Garutch
At a young age saxophonist Jan Kus was a promising saxophonist, a scholarship from the Slovenian Ministry of Culture to study at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague, studies which included tours of Belgium, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia, Slovakia, and The Netherlands, with other young European jazz players. In 2012, Kus crossed the Atlantic to pursue his Masters, studying under saxophonist Antonio Hart at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, where he received the Jimmy Heath Award for promising wind players.Fast forward and 2016 brought the release of his first full-length offering as a leader, Faith is an amalgamation of a globally transcendent sound, all rooted in the modern jazz idiom, self-produced it gives us an opportunity to see the fully developed creativity of Kus. Joined by like-minded compadres, Faith features Jan Kus on tenor and soprano saxophones, Sean Fitzpatrick on piano and Fender Rhodes, double bassist Dan Martinez and drummer Joel Mateo. Joined by Antonio Hart, electric guitarist Rafal Sarnecki and vocalist Mélanie JB Charles, who has been popping up on quite a few of the emerging millennial jazz recordings, the result is a tight, connected listen with an international flair.Mentor Hart’s focused alto and Kus’ brash full bodied tenor make a track like “Emptiness,” feel anything but empty. The two harmonize the melody with great result, building the intensity with consequential elongated lines build and fervor the improvisations into a fury of sound. Together they are an eloquent foil for one another.
“Rhythm A Ning,” is given a quartet treatment with Alex Sipiagin’s trumpet and Kus’ tenor blazing the path for a dazzling re-imagining of Thelonious Monk’s most active be-bop melody, Fitzpatrick’s piano and Mateo’s drums created a tension and release of for Martinez’s bass to augment the tune into a devising Latin rhythm, with tenor and trumpet colorizing the melody atop. Quick paced and flowing lines, show the prowess of this young lion who I might add has an amazing sense of rhythm, not just blowing.As I mentioned earlier, I have been hearing a lot of Charles as a guest artist. Her voice is languid and seasoned, with the right amount of uniqueness to immediately recognize her on a recording. Using her voice as an instrument, she vocalizes with Kus’ saxophone on the track “Strength,” the two complement each other like a pair of instrumentalists. Alternatively, “I’m Just a Little Person,” (which I might add there are two versions) is a ballad setting that is treated gently and spaciously which brings forth the breathy beauty in Charles voice and the sustain and control in Kus’ tenor, the true salt of any vocalist and I might saxophonist is how they approach a ballad and both rise to the task with maturity and fluency. On the alternate take, Kus this time on soprano sax opening the tune with an open approach as the drums and bass spaciously create a loping feel of longing in a nice complimentary take and the trio creates their own unique version that is different than the vocal take, but still just as pleasing.
“Neófito,” is a muscular tune, and I must say, though it was hard to choose, it is the one I keep going back to as my favorite. Complex ideas and textures, laced with heavy Latin feels gives this tune a distinctly modern vibe that again shows off Kus’ very international influenced sound.
Overall, Faith is an amazing first effort – if this is what we can expect from Kus, then the future truly is bright. This young saxophonist has seemingly endless dexterity, masterful control of his breath and a warm round sound that is miles ahead of his years on this earth. He is one I will definitely watch with an eye towards the future. I now can see why he was recognized at such a fledgling age for his prowess and promise. Well done, highly recommended.