These two CDs (this is a double review with Rich Perry's Hearsay) make an interesting pairing, revealing two sides of tenor saxophonist Rich Perry: Hearsay is intellectual and challenging; Pianissimo is emotional and instantly accessible. That they both swing is a tribute to Perry's duality and to the flexibility of swing. It can come from the head or the heart.
Hearsay is devoid of piano, and Perry and his frontline colleague, trumpeter Steve Lampert, explore tricky, angular bop lines apparently built on minor scales. Assisting them are Jeff Hirshfield's all-embracing drums (listen particularly to his bolerolike support on "Then From Now") and bassist Dennis Irwin, the sole guide through the abstract, harmonic minefield. Much of it sounds like an endless pedal point, yet it's rewarding if only for the technical brilliance of Perry and Lampert, who plays a Harmon mute on all tracks, enriching the frontline's timbre.
Pianissimo is pianist Andy LaVerne's date, but the dominant sound is the sensual, passionate lyricism of Perry, who meditates so effectively in the rarefied air of the alto range. Strayhorn's haunting "Chelsea Bridge" sets that mood at the outset-an introspection that is maintained throughout all six tracks. Bassist Jay Anderson's contrapuntal comments and Matt Wilson's artful drumming enhance LaVerne's gossamer touch. LaVerne's writing chops are as impressive as his playing, as shown on "Nineteen." But, again, Perry is just mesmerizing.