sacha perry trio /

1 Erratic
2 All Right
3 Let’s Get With It
4 I Keep Coming Back To You
5 Whirligig
6 Goodnight, Goodnight
7 Another Day
8 Things Gone By
9 The Panic
10 Hope Springs
11 Desolation

Sacha Perry (piano), Ari Roland (bass), Phil Stewart (drums)
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Stage time, especially paid stage time, is a precious commodity in New York City. On stage is where artists compete for the public’s attention in the hopes of establishing themselves. But the paid stage, whether in the club or the recording studio, is also the economic impetus that makes musicians convene over music, and thereby the impetus for musical development. For much of the last century, from 1926 to 1988, the restrictive cabaret laws in New York reduced the amount of live stage time artificially, making it scarce by requiring licenses for clubs hosting brass and percussion, and granting only a few. After the laws were overturned in 1988 on grounds of violating the First Amendment, the resurgence of jazz clubs in New York in the early 1990s suggested that pent-up demand had indeed exceeded the suppressed supply. One might ask whether this helps to explain the historical existence of a New York underground world of exceptional jazz talent that has been virtually unknown to the jazz-listening public. The newly arrived jazz clubs of the nineties did in fact reveal a number of artists to the broader public for the first time. Clubs such as Smalls featured artists like Frank Hewitt, who had been heard hitherto in recent times mainly at such places as the University of the Streets or the Jazz Cultural Theater, both grass-roots organizations known to few outside the jazz community. The new clubs also afforded younger artists a chance to be presented to the public in a timely way, and the hope of surviving long enough to become established.

Now, about Sacha Perry.

Born in Brooklyn on May 1, 1970, Sacha began to learn piano at age 6. As a standout student early on, he enrolled at Hunter College High School and began studying classical piano at Mannes School of Music at age 11. By age 17 his attentions were turning towards jazz. The inspiration supplied by a Thelonious Monk recording was a catalyst for what was to become a life journey. Sacha, a born self-educator with a keen nose for the non-obvious and a tendency to think far ahead of most people, recognized that the secrets and subtleties of modern jazz piano would only be revealed through the working jazz community.

Sacha quickly found his way to the inner circles of the NY jazz world, aided in part by friends such as trumpeter Dwayne Clemons and pianist Rodney Kendrick, who introduced him to the enclaves of insiders who gathered nightly away from the limited clubs to play the subtle and urgent music that they and their associates originated in New York. Here Sacha met up with players such as Barry Harris, Clarence “C” Sharpe, Junior Cook, Lou Donaldson, Tommy Turrentine, Leroy Williams -- and Frank Hewitt, the original subject of this label, who was to become Sacha’s greatest influence on the piano. Also, fatefully, Sacha met up with future musical collaborators Ari Roland, Chris Byars, Zaid Nasser, and Mike Mullins, some of the young players on the scene who were singled out by their elders, and often invited to accompany.

And here the stories converge.

The arrival of new clubs brought to increasingly eclectic listeners a choice, and to artists an abundance of paid stage-time. Musicians who were previously forced to perform in obscurity received the opportunity to perform publicly and on a regular basis. Smalls, open until dawn every night of the week, could provide time enough to stretch out. Here Sacha and his collaborators, and their elder, Frank Hewitt, all found themselves together working, developing, and thriving artistically, if not financially.

In the course of nine years at Smalls, Sacha played every Sunday in Across 7 Street, a product of his habitual collaborations with its co-leaders, Ari Roland and Chris Byars. Sometimes Sacha would work on a Thursday with Zaid Nasser, lead his own trio early Friday and Saturday, and appear with Across 7 Street on Sunday. This proved the ideal environment for Sacha to pen and perform a steady stream of beautiful and challenging new compositions. The compositions found an outlet in the context of these groups, and the players had the opportunity to explore the subtle artistic possibilities in them over time. Appearing here are eleven of the forty or so compositions Sacha wrote during this period.

Obviously these are not pedestrian compositions. One is immediately struck by the expressive and sophisticated harmonies, and the lyrical melodies that are both extraterrestrial and down to Earth. Expectations of harmonic excellence run deep in New York, which has played host to virtually the entire history of achievements in jazz harmony. Meeting such expectations under pressure is among the most daunting challenges for a young player. Sacha is usually singled out for having a special gift in this regard. The original harmonic progressions used in compositions here are evidence of the range of harmonic possibilities that he commands. He knows precisely the expressive weight of his chords. Using rapidly shifting and subtle chromatic moods, he is able to weave themes that are at once poetic and smart, often with a dark edge, and a wry sense of humor. The influence of bebop is evident in Sacha’s playing, and it is clear that he came by it as a musical progeny of the music’s early practitioners, and his playing has the ring of authenticity. He is neither retro nor revival. This is a welcome change from the shallow, scholastic forms that one hears all too commonly.

Bassist Ari Roland has been working with Sacha for fifteen years now and he knows Sacha’s book inside and out. Their musical conversations on each tune here are a highly developed and spirited contrapuntal pas de deux worthy of concentrated listening. Ari’s bass solos on this date, some of his best on record, are dizzying, introducing many elements into play all at once, and resolving them all through the most unusual keys. It is an artful combination that seems to give play to all the daemons of the psyche, from the antic to the manic, and it complements Sacha’s aesthetic.

Phil Stewart, who has been playing many of these tunes with Sacha for the last three years, has a position of honor here, occupying a chair previously occupied much of the time by the late Jimmy Lovelace, who passed this last October 29th, 2004. Phil’s natural exuberance comes through in his lively accompaniment, which feeds nicely into the piano and bass counterpoint to create a very tight group sound. Whether playing time, accenting, trading with Sacha, or soloing, Phil enhances the dramatic scope of Sacha’s music.

The enigmatic title of this album is a triple entendre given to me by Sacha on the back of a Smalls flyer. Eretik is heretic, is erratic, is erotic. Shades of Gertrude Stein. It is partly a reflection of the deceptively many layers here.

Luke Kaven
February, 2005