Sarah Reich receives an enlightened review from Marc Phillips of Positive Feedback

To call New Change a mere novelty is to ignore all the other ways Reich has altered the structure of this album. She brings a modern attitude to her debut album, tempered in part by hip-hop culture: she begins with that typical “intro,” replete with sound of applause. That almost feels like a knowing wink as you progress through the album, when the remaining interludes are bracketed between the songs and include sounds snippets from documentaries about tap dance, bits of family conversation, and Reich expressing, in her own voice, what she’s trying to accomplish at such a young age.

 

Sarah Reich New ChangeThat’s when I grabbed the CD cover and started reading about Ms. Reich. She’s not the singer, she’s not the drummer, she’s not even performing one of the traditional lead instruments in a jazz ensemble such as a saxophone or a piano. She is a tap dancer. While she’s certainly adorable and vivacious in a visual way, she is there to do one thing—present her swift and talented feet as a new type of instrument, a percussion instrument. Her feet keep the rhythm. They lay down the beat and add a brimming dollop of funk when needed. Her feet may be the most expressive feet you will ever hear.

 

You’ve probably seen Sarah Reich before, probably on YouTube where she has made plenty of videos with Postmodern Jukebox. (You know, the genre-shuffling ensemble whose videos go viral on Facebook every other week.) She’s been blessed with a plethora of those “Top Dancers to Watch” and “20 Under 20” awards over the last couple of years. Most importantly, she’s outrageously ambitious, hence the quote at the top of the page. I’m sure she isn’t the first to consider tap shoes as a viable percussion instrument in the world of jazz, but it’s the first time I’ve heard of it.

She’s ambitious because she’s doing so much more than using the sound of her shoes striking the floor as a musical instrument, especially in the context of the other members of the ensemble. She is not taking the place of another musician—drums, for example, are still performed by talented jazz musicians such Aaron McClendon, Gordon Campbell and Alex Boneham. She’s joined by singer Maiya Sykes on a couple of songs, which suggests a surrogacy, but Reich stands alone amidst the brass sections and the rhythm sections and the keyboards. Her “taps” are the featured instrument, the flow and energy throughout the album.

To call New Change a mere novelty is to ignore all the other ways Reich has altered the structure of this album. She brings a modern attitude to her debut album, tempered in part by hip-hop culture: she begins with that typical “intro,” replete with sound of applause. That almost feels like a knowing wink as you progress through the album, when the remaining interludes are bracketed between the songs and include sounds snippets from documentaries about tap dance, bits of family conversation, and Reich expressing, in her own voice, what she’s trying to accomplish at such a young age.

The meat of the album, however, is jazz—even when it veers into R&B on “Respect the Dance,” the tight and driven funk beat of “The Groove” or a smoother, lighter brand of cool on the opening “Tap City.” This is truly a varied album in so many ways, delving into the far away past of jazz and leaping back forward into the 21st century with a gleeful ferocity. But Reich’s tapping forges Sarah Reich New Changesomething enduring when it’s supporting true strains of jazz, such as the crime-drama whims of “It’s Tappening” and the sexy Brazilian capriciousness of the title track. It’s almost a cabaret feel, of walking next to Bob Fosse’s ghost, all that glitter and excitement, but it’s tempered early in the album with the voice of Brenda Bufalino warning “Don’t substitute energy for feeling.”

That, after all, is the main goal of New Change. This is not someone beating on cardboard boxes in the distance. This is tap, and Sarah Reich is trying to prove that there’s something deep in its tradition that’s begging to emerge to reveal some amazing secrets. Can a pair of shoes—no, wait, it’s really a pair of feet connected to the heart and the soul—express emotions? It can, in the same way a drummer or percussionist can reveal those same emotions with the perfect strike at the perfect angle. With tap, there is a propensity for digging even deeper since it employs every part of the body. Tap is expressed only with an enormous amount of physical strength, athleticism, and reaching deep down into your life experiences and pulling something out that’s never been heard before.

Once you understand that, you’ll be fascinated with what this vibrant young woman has accomplished.

Photo credits: Jeremy Jackson

 

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