Sep 18 2014
When a musician is involved in a seriously diverse set of projects as a sideman, it’s always interesting to hear how an album will sound when it’s that musician who is the one behind the steering wheel and driving a project. Will it sound like a composite of all the albums the musician has contributed to? Will it sound like the album of one particularly influential project? Will it come out of left field and sound like nothing else that preceded it?
Drummer Vinnie Sperrazza has contributed to a very diverse mix of projects, many of which situate themselves in spots occupied by few others. Or, said differently, Sperrazza has been a part of a lot of different projects doing things differently from everyone else.
Sperrazza contributed to Aqualude, the nearly unclassifiable folk-jazz-chamber recording by Dana Lyn. He goes old- and new-school on Drye & Drye’s Open Letter. He performs the drum work on the intriguing lap steel jazz-country of Raphael McGregor’s Fretless. It gets even stranger on Ben Holmes’ near avant-garde take on Romanian folk music via jazz. And then there’s the variations of modern jazz with his participation on Liam Sillery’s sessions for Origin Records, the Hush Point unit with Jeremy Udden, John McNeil and Aryeh Korbrinsky and the 40Twenty quartet with Jacob Garchik, Jacob Sacks and Dave Ambrosio.
Sacks and Ambrosio were the trio with Sperrazza on his 2009 release Peak Inn. Basically a modern piano trio recording with plenty of atonality and furtive activity, it had its moments, but it preceded many of the projects just mentioned and comes nowhere close to matching the immense statement of Sperrazza’s 2014 release Apocryphal. Like many of the projects that came in the aftermath of Sperrazza’s 2009 release, Apocryphal situates itself in a different kind of spot, one occupied by few others. It’s an album that isn’t easy to define and doesn’t allow itself to get pegged down.
The title-track opens the album with dovetailing melodic lines juxtaposed with an inchworm rhythmic motion. The conflicting motions become indistinguishable when the song grows into a din before quickly trailing off for the final note. “Thanksalot” starts out with squeaks and the tolling of Eivind Opsvik’s bass, an uneasy calm. The calm is shattered when the song breaks into a rambling, ramshackle dispensation of calamitous sounds.
“Spalding Gray” has a rock n’ roll sway, as the grind of the rhythm section contrasts with the casual repartee between guitarist Brandon Seabrook and saxophonist Loren Stillman, who seem to be having a disconnected conversation… and yet it all synchs up with the way lines perpetually intersect. Seabrook throws down a laser beam solo, a nifty show of accuracy within the environs of Sperrazza’s rhythmic avalanche. That the song goes out with a quiet steady outro is a nice touch.
“Plainchant” wavers with lullaby harmonics, sounding much as it did when Sperrazza performed it with his 40Twenty quartet. But then it grows a bit more ominous. Seabrook picks his way through the dark on guitar, each step fraught with meaning and careful determination. When the song combusts and the light switch is flipped on, all the monsters are revealed. On the other hand, the much less frightful “Mendicant” has a boozy atmosphere, the song almost drawled out rather than played. There are times that the quartet is on the verge of stumbling into a drunken rendition of Happy Birthday To You, but, instead, veer off into a fog of dissonance.
The album ends with “Floor Phrase,” a drone that moves stealthily into a thick din before the floor drops out, initiating a return to peacefulness. If it represents anything about the album, it’s that it sounds like nothing that precedes it and was equally unexpected. This is the kind of thing one should expect from an artist with a history of traveling the fringes of Jazz, and it’s the kind of thing that should compel listeners to follow Sperrazza as he heads off to his next project.
Your album personnel: Vinnie Sperrazza (drums), Loren Stillman (alto sax), Brandon Seabrook (guitar), and Eivind Opsvik (bass).
Released on Loyal Label.
Jazz from the Brooklyn scene.