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Not Brand X

Artist: Sacha Perry
Sacha Perry - Not Brand X CD
Label: Smalls
Regular Price: $12.95
On Sale For: $5.18 
Year: 2006
Format: CD


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What happens behind locked doors in the daylight hours at Smalls has been as much a part of the scene as the nightly revelry. As the club closed at 7 or 8 am each morning, die-hard listeners would emerge from the basement, wincing with the glare of the early morning sun before stepping into the human slipstream. This solar confrontation was a forceful reminder that one's circadian rhythms were now hopelessly reversed -- a kind of metabolic equivalent to the backbeat. Musical invention itself did not follow a circadian rhythm. In fact, the later it gets, and the more music one plays, the better the conditions for musical inspiration. Why sleep when things are just getting going?

For some of the musicians, closing time was just the beginning of the next phase in the club's daily life. A few would stay behind when the doors were locked. Some would stretch out on the sofas, or on the cot in the cooler, settling down for some sleep. But some stayed behind to play. Sometimes Frank Hewitt would sit down and play a couple of tunes by himself before retiring, a kind of punctuation for the previous night's musical discourse. The audience for this usually consisted of Sacha Perry, me, and a couple of others, often artists from overseas who had come to New York to hear Frank and Sacha play. Chain-smoking conversations would ensue, ranging from metaphysics to Bugs Bunny to wait-let-me-play-you-this. Soon, Sacha would settle down to practice. You could hear him work through a tune, playing it with a series of thick, orchestrated voicings, dark-sounding and tonally ambiguous crash chords that rang out like bell-chimes. In the afternoons, after scant sleep, he would return for sessions with Ari Roland and Phil Stewart, and perhaps an invited horn player or two. In these early morning and afternoon sessions is where this record was born. During this period, of course, Sacha Perry was composing many of the original compositions in his repertoire, eleven of which are presented on his debut recording Eretik (Smalls SRCD-0009), which barely even touches on the many beautiful and subtle works in his book. But for many sessions where other players participated, standards were more in order.

Sacha's approach to standards is anything but standard. Although faithful to the original melodies, he uses extended harmonies to paint with a broader and more subtle palette. He understands well the expressive weight of his chord voicings, and uses them for poetic ends. In his interpretations, he always speaks with the poet's voice. He plays 'Brother Can You Spare A Dime?' with the utmost earnestness, and it speaks veridically of despair, while Ari Roland's bow tugs at your heartstrings. Perhaps this is as full a realization of the composer's concept as one could hope for. By contrast 'Get Out Of Town' ' Porter's facetious love song ' takes a turn. On this one you can almost hear the villagers clamoring outside with torches and pitchforks, and you'd better get out (before it's too late). Sacha takes 'Give It Back To The Indians in a very hip groove at a loping pace and articulates his solo like a soliloquy, making lovely use of space, and developing a conversation between his left and right hands. Phil Stewart's syncopated accentuation on this one is especially great. Perry takes 'All God's Chillun Got Rhythm' fast, using pedal tones to create suspense. Sacha's version of the long-form 'Love' is a tour-de-force here without ever resorting to mere showmanship. And 'This Is It' is a sly tribute to The Bunny. Of course Looney Tunes are great modern art; but the morning cartoons are also the equivalent of the late, late show if you go to sleep at 9 am, and so a staple part of a jazz musician's repertoire.

We get to document here again one of the great ongoing musical relationships today. Sacha Perry and Ari Roland have been playing together for almost twenty years, much of the time on a daily basis. [For more on this, see also Ari Roland's Sketches From A Bassist's Album (SRCD-0012), and Across 7 Street / Made In New York (SRCD-0002).] They were both gifted and highly advanced as teenagers growing up in New York; early on they delved deeply into the esoteric ideas about melody and harmony, while absorbing vast amounts of communitarian knowledge from the great masters on the New York scene at the time. Working together (and with their longtime associate Chris Byars), they developed a rare degree of freedom with the ability to move around through distant keys and unusual tonalities together on the fly, with some extraordinary note-to-note contrapuntal interplay. For this they are recommended as essential listening for Juilliard students these days. And Ari's group with Sacha Perry and Chris Byars was chosen this year (2006) for the Jazz Ambassador program. So it looks like just recognition is starting to catch up with them. Phil Stewart has proven to be a great drummer in this configuration. He listens, doesn't try to steal the show with bravura even though he's got chops to spare, and his time is solid, and right in the pocket. No wonder he's been increasingly sought after too.
Sacha Perry (piano); Ari Roland (bass); Phil Stewart (drums)
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