Ann Arbor welcomed saxophonist Caleb Curtis home

Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - 4:55pm

Ann Arbor native and saxophonist Caleb Curtis brought a welcoming party to the Kerrytown Concert House this past Sunday. Returning this time to perform with pianist Marta Sanchez, the duo was embraced by the Ann Arbor community.

As I sat waiting for the performance to begin, talk over the latest changes to the local middle school and general catching-up filled the room. Socializing was a primary aspect to the atmosphere where everyone seemed to know each other. Largely community-based, the crowd was limited to an older generation, setting up a stark contrast to many jazz concerts I have attended here in Ann Arbor.

The feeling of community contributed to the intimate setting of the Kerrytown Concert House. A hybrid of a living room and art gallery, there are two main seating sections that stretch the lengths of two rooms. The piano and performance space are set on a platform in the center room with both seating sections facing the stage. As stated by Curtis, the venue provides a very “special experience” with “a lot of space for people to hear the instruments.”

While there may be a significant amount of audience space, I found that the two different rooms provided vastly different listening experiences. Initially, I sat directly facing Marta Sanchez on the piano and Curtis playing from the front. The sound was direct and the two were in balance, as though perfectly set to volumes in a recording. From the other room, the sound of the saxophone was much more striking. The complexities of Curtis’s sound came out from this vantage point while the piano melted into the background creating an entirely new landscape. Hearing the complexities added to the live aspect of performance and created a more provoking experience.

The Sanchez and Curtis duo concert was incredibly well put together. Playing from a range of jazz standards and original compositions of each of the musicians, the pieces kept a certain level of engagement from the audience. As musicians, their performance had unity and a deliberateness to each phrase. Despite being free of mistakes and an effortless performance, I craved more: more communication between the artists and more engagement with the audience. The performance felt too planned at times, which took away from the live aspect I am so drawn to. In such a familiar setting, I would have hoped for more risks and taking advantage of the space to have fun.

On stage, Curtis referred to the homecoming as a “relief from the stress of New York.” This came through in the performance; Curtis seemed to be taking a deep breath and focusing solely on playing. It was a familial affair as the crowd cheered on Curtis, and the duo took a step back from the pressures of the New York music scene.

As a musician, I realized that the technical and musical aspects alone are not enough to create an extraordinary performance — it is authenticity that drives excitement into a performance. When an audience can witness risks being taken and become a part of the performer’s musical exploration, a profound power surfaces. The perfection of technique and rhythm are not enough; it is the uniqueness and individuality of a musician that creates an enduring and compelling performance.