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Vinnie Sperrazza: Vinnie Sperrazza: Apocryphal

Dave Wayne By

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An understated but highly-skilled and insanely versatile drummer in the vein of Kenny Wolleson, Jeff Hirshfield, and Paul Motian, Vinnie Sperrazza has been turning up on all sorts of interesting recordings over the past half-decade or so. Co-leader of 40Twenty with Jacob Sacks, Jacob Garchik, and Dave Ambrosio, Sperrazza is also in a trio with Sacks and bassist Masa Kamaguchi, and is one fourth of Hush Point; a brainy collaboration with veteran trumpeter John McNeil and alto saxophonist Jeremy Udden. He's also collaborated with Jon Irabagon, Ellery Eskelin, Ralph Alessi, and a host of other forward-thinking New York musicians. Apocryphal is Sperrazza's first album as a leader and, well, it will be hard to top.

Part of the reason for this is his band, which includes guitarist Brandon Seabrook, saxophonist Loren Stillman and bassist Eivind Opsvik. Stillman, a musical prodigy who recorded his debut as a leader (Cosmos, Soul Note Records, 1997) in his teens, is easily one of the most distinctive young saxophonists around today. Here, he sounds particularly unfettered and happy to duke it out with gonzo guitarist Brandon Seabrook. With his amazing technical proficiency and single-minded zeal for musical shenanigans, Seabrook is the sort of musician who can literally dominate any musical situation, crushing everyone in his path. Though some may feel he's the jazz equivalent of a scenery-chewer, throughout Apocryphal his mind-boggling skills and bizarrely dramatic soundscapes are undeniably heartfelt and consistently apropos. As I write this, I'm listening to the warm theremin-like swells he's producing to back Stillman's elegiac alto on "Plainchant." It's chillingly beautiful, and spot-on. He plies a similar strategy on "Mendicant," imparting a ghostly electronic shimmer to Sperrazza's brooding downtempo piece. Careful not to overwhelm during Opsvik's probing bass solo, the scene changes during Stillman's solo where Seabrook is ready to join in with rapid fire metalloid lines and seething electronic washes. The overall effect is similar to Bill Frisell's more unhinged moments with the Paul Motian Trio.

An inventive, restless, exploratory spirit pervades Apocryphal. It's also relatively short, clocking in at less than 40 minutes. Though a constant, relentless pulse drives "Floor Phrase," the piece takes on a variety of rhythmic attitudes throughout its 6-minute long journey. Starting out as a ballad, the piece takes on a heavy, almost martial character which then shifts into a 12/8 blues feel behind Stillman's solo; which itself shifts from pensive to plaintive to wailing. As Seabrook steps out of the background, the band shifts into double time, a tumbling 6/8, before receding back to its original balladic form. On the title track, a pleasant moderate tempo piece, Seabrook's guitar quakes and quavers, ghosting Stillman's alto as he traces Sperrazza's sweet, inviting melody. Seabrook's solo here is memorably bizarre, yet imparts a sense of lightness and fun that percetly fits the piece's playful character. "Thanksalot" is freer, both rhythmically and harmonically, and features the quartet's most edgy and radical playing during what seems to be a group improvisation. "Spalding Gray" is sunnier and sweeter, with Seabrook's effects-laden chords providing an interesting counterpoint-both harmonically and timbrally-to Stillman's distinctively vocal alto. Yet, here, Stillman chips in with some electronically modified sounds of his own. Just another unexpected twist in an album replete with surprise and adventure. Throughout it all, Sperrazza's mellow, patient approach and Opsvik's woody, tuneful bass keep Stillman and Seabrook grounded without dragging them down. And it certainly helps that Sperrazza's compositions are an interesting and varied lot.

Certainly amongst the year's most auspicious debut recordings, Apocryphal is also the sort of album that literally provokes further listening, and lingers in the brain long after its over.

Track Listing: Apocryphal; Thanksalot; Spalding Gray; Plainchant; Mendicant; Floor Phrase.

Personnel: Vinnie Sperrazza: drums; Loren Stillman: alto saxophone; Brandon Seabrook: electric guitar; Eivind Opsvik: acoustic bass.

Title: Vinnie Sperrazza: Apocryphal | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Loyal Label

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