Drummer Ben Perowsky is a consummate sideman (Mike Stern, Pat Martino, Dave Douglas, Walter Becker, The Lounge Lizards...) and a fixture of New York’s Knitting Factory scene. His first release as a leader is upon us, and it’s a killer. Along with Scott Colley on double bass and Chris Speed on tenor sax and clarinet, Perowsky serves up some cutting-edge music that sits squarely within the straight-ahead jazz tradition yet points the way toward jazz’s future.
The album — save for one track — was recorded live at the Knitting Factory. In addition to Perowsky’s three originals and one collectively composed tune, we have Charlie Parker’s "Segment," Duke Ellington’s "In A Sentimental Mood," Oliver Messiaen’s "Danse De La Fureur, Pour Les Sept Trompettes" (the one studio cut), and Pink Floyd’s "Money." The Messiaen piece is outstanding — it begins with what sounds like free improv with a hint of 6/8 time, then takes off into an awesome, very complex single-note line played in unison by bass and clarinet, with subtle drumming underneath. The trio transforms a contemporary classical motif into the hippest jazz you’ve ever heard. Their reading of "Segment" is burning, and it makes clear that Charlie Parker’s music remains forever fresh and open to higher levels of exploration.
The Ellington and Floyd tunes are not quite as rewarding. "Sentimental Mood" begins promisingly, with Speed’s haunting, unaccompanied intro and Perowsky’s mallets floating out of tempo. But once the tune gets going, it’s a pretty straightforward rundown of a tune that, while beautiful, is played a tad too often. The loping 7/4 bass line of "Money" lends itself well to this trio’s overall vibe, but jazz covers of rock tunes rarely transcend their novelty. And oddly, rock tunes seem to get covered in twos — pianist Jacky Terrasson also recorded "Money" on his new record, Tony Williams and saxophonist Chris Potter each covered The Beatles’ "Fool on the Hill," pianist Brad Mehldau and vocalist Andy Bey each took a stab at Nick Drake’s "River Man," etc. I’m all for mixing genres, but the rock cover trend seems like a bit of a bandwagon.
To highlight the positive, the album’s opener, "El Destructo," can only be described as badass. It’s an infectious bass line in 10 with driving drums and an angular yet spare sax melody, changing to a jumpy B section in 5, opening up into burning solos and intense group improvisation. The tune swings solidly in tempo yet always totters toward the free and the "out." "Electric Sheep" starts as a slow, ethereal bass ostinato in 6, with Speed on clarinet and Perowsky on brushes. The tune gets really free once Perowsky switches to mallets. Toward the end, he sets up a polyrhythmic groove to serve as a segue into the funky "Pixy99," which features Speed getting some truly weird sounds out of his mouthpiece. A rambunctious, retro-rock sort of drum beat kicks off "Janitor," which settles into a fast funk romp with excellent soloing by Speed and Colley.
There’s about a minute and a half of crowd noise at the end of the CD, complete with a bartender’s authentic shout of "Last Call!" In this and many other ways, the record documents where it’s at in today’s downtown New York jazz scene. Perowsky and his cohorts are leaders in their field.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.