Whether divine intervention or unbelievable luck, soul-jazz singer Phil Perry very narrowly escaped becoming a victim of the 9/11 attacks. Perry was scheduled to perform at the World Trade Center that lunchtime. The psychological after-effects left him in a state of severe artistic depression that lasted six years, derailing a thriving career that had begun with the R&B group the Montclairs and continued with various solo projects.
Principal among Perry’s post-depression saviors is producer Chris “Big Dog” Davis, who has guided the vocalist’s comeback, overseeing five releases since 2006, including Say Yes. Davis is also the album’s musical backbone, providing all of the keyboard sequencing and writing four of its five original tunes.
As smooth-jazz projects go it is undeniably well crafted, if not particularly original. Perry’s spoken introduction sets up the intended transformation of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” from old-school satiny to Take 6-ish contemporary. Trouble is, there’s nothing overtly modern about his sound, or Davis’ handling of it. All 10 tracks evoke the era when Teddy Pendergrass and Barry White ruled the MOR airwaves. Indeed, a version of “Where Is the Love,” featuring Chanté Moore opposite Perry, is a near note-for-note replica of the Donny Hathaway-Roberta Flack original. As for the Davis-penned tunes, all are musically solid yet feel like cream-filled escapees from the Luther Vandross songbook. Oddest, and most interesting, is the sole Perry original, “Peel the Veil.” Lyrically, it’s difficult to determine if its intent is spiritual or seductive, which is precisely what makes it so intriguing.