Inside the John Perrine Quartet

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HERE’S THE THING / PERRINE: The Tao of Lenny Bruce. Tarantino’s Lullaby. Here’s the Thing. Greener the Grass. “Heard a Joke Once…” Welcome to the Monkey House. Rack-On Touring. Prelude to the Screwtape Letters / The John Perrine Quartet: Perrine, a-sax/s-sax; Rock Wehrmann, pn; Adam Plank, bs; Bill Ransom, dm / Centaur 3604

Well, here’s the thing: John Perrine, Associate Professor, Coordinator of Jazz Studies and Department Chair at Cleveland State University, paid to have his music recorded and issued by Centaur Records. Perrine holds a DMA from Louisiana State University, a Masters in Jazz Pedagogy from Northwestern University, and a BME from Stetson University. He is a founding member of the Neo-Tessares Saxophone Quartet as well as the Red Stick Saxophone Quartet.

Happily, as academic jazz musicians go, Perrine is pretty cool. His music is best described as straightahead jazz with a twist—actually, several twists. The opener, The Tao of Lenny Bruce, begins with a lick that sounds like Thelonious Monk only with some piano counterpoint in the intro. The chord changes in the improvised sections also have a Monk-like feel to them, and pianist Wehrmann has fun working around them, producing solos of considerable ingenuity and invention. Perrine’s solo on the opener is relaxed and laid-back, almost like some of the West Coast players of the 1950s. The piece ends with a cute little riff played in thirds.

By contrast, Tarantino’s Lullaby is anything but lullaby-like, rather an uptempo piece in which Perrine switches from alto to soprano sax. Here, his solo is busier and more angular in design, wailing as if he were playing on a Mingus chart. The harmonic base of the tune seems to be primarily two chords, but this doesn’t hold back any of the soloists here; Wehrmann is again inventive and swinging. Drummer Ransom has a nice couple of solos on this one, too. Here’s the Thing is a strange piece, built around an odd, bitonal melodic contour that seems to keep going on and on without developing until Perrine interrupts with his alto solo. And his solo really develops here, going on and on is a linear fashion, creating an entirely new line that bears little resemblance to the opening tune. It is Wehrmann who is more sparse in this one, playing laid-back single-note lines against the bass of Adam Plank. The latter gets his own solo, and it’s a very nice one; he plays electric bass, but the tone is clean enough to resemble an acoustic instrument.

Greener Grass begins with Perrine squealing outside jazz on his alto, followed by a funk sort of beat which leads into the main tune, the bridge of which is resolutely tonal, but the passage following is more relaxed and sounds quasi-classical—a strange mixture. Yet Perrine and his quartet manage to pull all of these elements together in a fine performance, multi-layered and fascinating.

“Heard a Joke Once…” begins in ballad tempo, relaxed and somewhat wistful in feeling. Perrine is back on soprano for this one, stretching out the melody line with superb breath control, and pianist Wehrmann is equally mellow. Welcome to the Monkey House has a sort of quirky opening line similar to Here’s the Thing, but once again Perrine’s and the band’s strong grasp of structure make the music sound unified in concept and execution, this despite a series of rapid-fire notes played at double tempo on alto and equally busy background from the rest of the band. This almost resembles an Ornette Coleman sort of piece. Perrine goes “outside” quite a bit on this one, following which the tempo comes way down for a piano-bass lick over which Perrine plays in a more relaxed fashion. Clearly, he knows his jazz composition; these are all fine and interesting works. It ends on a repeated, quite different lick.

Rack-On-Touring opens with a bass solo, then moves into a sort of Eastern belly-dance sort of tempo, with Perrine back on soprano and the rhythm section cooking like mad behind him. Wehrmann is relaxed, almost minimal in his solo here. When Perrine returns, he plays like mad—this track clearly belongs to him. The album ends with a fairly brief (two-minute) Prelude to the Screwtape Letters, a piece played in a stiff ragtime beat with a bit of shuffle-rhythm from drummer Ransom and Perrine playing the unusual melody—except for the brief uptempo bridge—before the tempo relaxes for a few bars, then returns to the ragtime shuffle for the finish.

A thoroughly delightful album, varied in concept and beautifully carried out by the quartet. Bravo!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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