Sacha Perry is 35 years old, and the beginnings of his vocation as a pianist date back to his late teens and an encounter with the recorded music of Thelonious Monk. The development of that vocation, and this is a paraphrase of the notes to his CD, was consequent on his finding his way into serious New York jazz musical company.
The notes refer to the assistance of friends, one of them Rodney Kendrick, whose music I know of only from a friend who received a review copy of We Don’t Die, We Multiply, an extremely impressive piano trio set in which Kendrick demonstrates that he has learned from both Monk and the physical giant Randy Weston, a veteran sometime protégé of Duke Ellington. Weston has been around long enough to have a good reputation in the reference books, Kendrick ought to have one, and so indeed might Perry some day. The notes’ list of Perry’s senior associates over the years also includes several hornmen widely known or obscure, and the great pianist and teacher Barry Harris, whose own playing bears marks of the influence of Bud Powell.
Without the Smalls label, hardly anybody outside New York might know the name of Frank Hewitt, whose alas posthumous appearance on record, from Smalls, was discussed earlier on this site. Luke Kaven, boss of the still new label and of the now defunct performance venue from which it takes its name, doesn’t merely champion Hewitt, and now Perry. He is actively trying to demonstrate that New York remains home to a number of considerable jazz musicians neither publicised nor fashionable, in who the music flourishes too little heard.
That concern might mark him as a romantic among people too fond of stereotypes, but there are remarkable musicians whose names simply do not get known, and whose lack of any wider reputation probably signifies one or another spiritual malaise. Among many potentially interested listeners, such musicians are supposed not to exist, as if only reasonable and musical factors determined reputations. There are places where it’s not safe to go alone, or go other than as a member of a sizeable group of human beings. That might have applied to the physical settings in which blues fans could hear Chicago performers fifty years ago, but what about listening to CDs?
Champions of styles of jazz played 70 and 80 years ago, whose specialised interests might not include, say, Sacha Perry, will complain that in music academies what is taught as jazz tends to be derivative of John Coltrane in a linear succession from his music. They do, however, make the point, clearly if implicitly, that Perry’s general sort of music hasn’t found real recognition in a lot of those academies either.
Imagine a big New York symphony orchestra dedicated to a succession of the latest things, in another version of “Roll over, Beethoven!” It would need a lot of sponsorship of a very unlikely sort. Perry, however, studied among musicians in a community of no worse than the unfashionable. Ari Roland, bassist on this set, was like Perry a man within this environment, and of a standard which made him welcome musical company to older musicians glad to have him play with them. Hewitt was one not all his peers had to endure, suffering a depth of being insufficiently widely known. For other names Kaven can vouch for but this reviewer hasn’t yet heard, check Kaven’s notes published on his own and on the CDBaby websites, where musical samples can also be audited.
Hewitt was an interesting musician who very audibly had learned from a number of slightly earlier pianists, such as Elmo Hope among the recorded but less famous. Perry, despite having something of Hewitt’s intense and tart sound, is a more focussed stylist, not Monkish as his friend Kendrick is, but coming out of a Monk-Bud Powell-Barry Harris sort of thing, with a more flowing style than the in many respects similar approach of the later Powell on the Portrait of Thelonious album.
He does not play with the efficiently quiet, fairly orthodox sonority of a lot of players, like the competent accompanists not to be regretted but not that distinguishable one from another—or Andre Previn. There is an edge to his sound, and also a body, an acute harmonic profile, and really, a voice.
His programme is all of his own compositions, works not remote in character from items recorded on 78 rpm in the later 1940s. “Erratic” is the opener, named as part of a game of wordplay Kaven’s notes mention, including erotic, heretic, and the coinage which is this set’s name. The chord sequence for improvisation is strong, and here as elsewhere Roland solos on bowed bass. Phil Stewart’s performance as drummer shouldn’t be slighted either.
For other samples, “All Right” is a brisk ballad, and “I Keep Coming Back to You” is reminiscent of “All the Things You Are” without necessarily having been based on that standard. The thunderous piano and involved drumming on “Whirligig” produce something like some versions of “Just One of Those Things”. “Goodnight, Goodnight” has more texture on the model of Bud Powell playing Monk; “Another Day” might strike an aficionado of classic bebop pianists as reminiscent of George Wallington, whose alleged descent from Powell could be challenged. Wallington was an Italian-American, real name Miglia, who kept company with the far too legendary Clarence Profit, who died young and could make records only under commercial constraints.
In general, I’d listen for right hand work not afraid of dissonance, liberated by use of a rumbling left, and, especially on the closer “Desolation”, some heavy solo chords and a socking attack. This isn’t to say that the guy can’t be tender or lyrical when he wants to be. He’s like a singer with a big voice, and this music is big-hearted and emotional, resourceful and brilliant, and with no lapses whatever into mere scales, exhibitionism, or cleverness. Some listeners may never have heard the like. People who’ve been listening long enough to hear Perry’s identifiable affinities would be hard pressed even to suggest where there might be anything imitative. The man is somebody.