Vinnie Sperrazza – Apocryphal (2014)

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We’ve encountered Vinnie’s Sprerrazza’s drumming on a lot of good-to-great jazz records, most recently Peter Brendler’s amazing debut from earlier this year. But Sperrazza’s own led album Apocryphal — due out September 9, 2014 on Loyal Label — changes my perception of him from a notable sideman to a pretty amazing leader himself.

This isn’t Sperrazza’s first time at bat; he’s co-led several records with Jacob Garchik, Jacob Sacks, and Dave Ambrosio under the moniker 40twenty. But in assembling an unlikely mix of Loren Stillman (alto sax), Brandon Seabrook (electric guitar) and Eivind Opsvik (acoustic bass), he signaled something quite different is afoot. It’s confirmed with these half dozen compositions of his where the worlds of jazz and anti-jazz are created and regularly collide with each other. That might be the idea behind pairing a mainstream jazz guy like Stillman with an experimentally minded art rock guy like Seabrook, who together function as the ying and yang of this often enigmatic music, with the Opsvik/Sperrazza rhythm section negotiating the currents going in opposite directions.

Fearless as always, Seabrook is evoking Sonny Sharrock…no, not necessarily the skronky Sharrock but the elastic, shimmering, euphoric Sharrock that made his masterpiece Ask The Ages with Pharoah Sanders and Elvin Jones. It’s this persona that adds this spooky flavor to the title song, a song that’s centered so well by Opsvik’s bass that Seabrook can jump into the abyss with Sperrazza maintaining the balance between the mainstream and the mad scientist modes.

Sperrazza, like Elvin, is a master of polyrhythms and but deploys them in hidden, tactical ways. “Thanksalot,” a tribute to Paul Motian, come closest to being unhinged and the drummer does cut loose completely a time or two, but Sperrazza seems more interested in blending in and coaxing the others outside their usual comfort zones (especially Stillman, who steps outside with Seabrook riding shotgun and remains well in character).

“Spalding Gray,” by contrast, sports a much more conventional modal structure that forms the foundation. Nevertheless, it’s played with such otherworldly abandon by Stillman, whose sax is at one point about to fray from the fuzzy effects applied to it. Seabrook’s skittering atmospheric backdrops ends up becoming the jumping off point for his own probing into the void.

“Plainchant” is another fine example of a song conceived with relative simplicity and made dense from the emotion invested into it from disparate personalities. “Medicant” is Sperrazza’s version of ‘leading from behind,’ establishing not just the dirge-like tempo of the song, but also underlining points of emphasis. “Floor Phase” resembles an ominous chant, even as Sperrazza evolves the groove into a hard-rocking thump.

Yes, Apocryphal is ethereal, an adjective that might be overused a tad, but it’s all about the way Vinnie Sperrazza and his three accomplices give the music that quality. It puts Sperrazza’s formal debut in a far corner of jazz that’s rarely occupied with so much moxie.

Visit Vinnnie Sperrazza’s website for more info.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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