For over 30 years, saxophonist Rich Perry has been a stalwart of the NY jazz scene, captivating audiences with his fluid phrasing and gorgeous sound while playing with Chet Baker, Lee Konitz and more recently as a featured soloist with Maria Schneider and on more than a dozen records of his own. With these two new Steeplechase releases, Perry once again dazzles with his facility and impeccable taste and further asserts himself as one of the most gifted saxophonists of his generation.
The leader's languid saxophone begins At The Kitano 1 with an impromptu flourish before wistfully stating the melody to "In Your Own Sweet Way over crisp piano and a light pulse from Jeff Hirshfield's brushed snare. Perry is patient with his improvisation, letting his ideas bloom while steadily gaining urgency and momentum over a simmering groove. With a subtlety of approach only a seasoned veteran could maintain, the saxophonist's lines build in a graceful arc to a culmination rife with glistening runs and bell-like altissimo before the baton is passed to Harold Danko's pristine piano.
Unlike most instrumentalists of his generation, Perry hasn't amassed a catalogue of original compositions, or distinguished himself on a wide array of instruments. Instead, the soft-spoken sax man has taken the hard road, cultivating a distinctive, lovely sound on the tenor saxophone and proving that a quartet of talented musicians playing well-worn standards can still come up with renditions startling in their freshness and artistic relevance. "I Thought About You is strikingly beautiful, starting with a mournful solo saxophone statement that pours smoothly from the speakers, before the delicately propulsive bass of Jay Anderson and the static wash of Hirshfield's brushed snare and cymbals join it.
The album closes with a couple of 'swingers' that find the telepathic quartet quickening its pace and raising the collective energy level. Perry and Danko think as one on "I'll Remember April , the former weaving a tapestry of intricate lines to which the latter adds vibrant color and contrapuntal intrigue. Hirshfield also plays a vital role, adding just the right amount of rhythmic color and propulsion, pushing each soloist to breathtaking heights.
In the jazz tradition, the jam session played and continues to play a vital role in the musical community. In that spirit, Steeplechase, a label built on tradition, has come up with a jam session series, pairing veteran players with up-and-comers as a way of spreading the word about musicians on the label. Volume 19 is a saxophone summit, which finds seasoned pros Rich Perry and Rick Margitza sharing the spotlight with 21-year-old saxophonist Joshua Douglas Smith and an allstar rhythm section comprised of pianist Andy LaVerne, bassist Steve LaSpina and drummer Billy Drummond.
The triumvirate of reeds plays pared-down arrangements of standard jazz fare and, in true jam session style, bookend the proceedings with open blowing on the blues. Perry solos first on "Tenor Madness , taking his time to develop separate graceful ideas into a coherent whole and is followed by an exuberant Smith and Margitza. The youngster in particular seems especially inspired, laying down long, articulated phrases that seem to veer abstractly before being reined in and contextualized.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the outing is a ballad medley that falls in the middle of the session and allows each saxophonist to make his own personal statement. Each performance is unique, starting with Smith's old school, lyrical rendition of "The Nearness Of You , all the way to Perry's sublime reading of "Nancy With The Laughing Face , arguably the album's high point.
Tracks and Personnel
At The Kitano
Tracks: In Your Own Sweet Way; You And The Night And The Music; I Though About You; Just Friends; Billie's Bounce; I'll Remember April.
Personnel: Rich Perry: tenor saxophone: Harold Danko: piano; Jay Anderson: bass; Jeff Hirshfield: drums.
Jam Session #19
Tracks: Tenor Madness; Without A Song; Ballad Medley; So Long Ago; Cool De La; Take The Coltrane.
Personnel: Rich Perry, Rick Margitza, Joshua Douglas Smith; tenor saxophone: Andy LaVerne; piano: Steve LaSpina; bass: Billy Drummond; drums.