Oregon Music News: Oregon’s all-genre music magazine since 2009


Review: Sarah Reich’s New Change Live- Tap Dance Comes Up For Air In Portland. Goodfoot Lounge, Portland, 3/25/19

By MICHAEL "SHOEHORN" CONLEY // The energy and sophistication of this performance was extraordinary and Reich has come into her own as a leader in this tap dance Renaissance.

Tap dancing runs deep. This contention may go against the stereotypes of Fred Astaire and Shirley Temple and the famously frivolous escapism of old Hollywood routines. But at its heart tap dance is a form which comes from deep within. From the early times when artists first listened to their feet and decided it was music, worthy of projecting with special shoes, to its current, largely unsung resurgence, tap has always been a vigorous manifestation of heartfelt music.

Sarah Reich presented a band at the underground Goodfoot Lounge on a wet Monday night which brought to the surface music she has carried in her feet and body since her childhood. Compactly built, and mostly efficient in her movements, she created powerful sounds and choreography to showcase the songs from her 2018 release New Change, available on CD as well as downloads. This album grew out of the success of Reich’s touring with Postmodern Jukebox in the wake of viral videos she created with that group.

Reich speaks to audiences about her mentors and the masters she  studied on VHS tapes as a teenager, and while many of the steps and combinations she utilizes in her art echo the vocabulary of the performers that inspired her, she has created her own language and style through her tone, precision, choice of accents, and phrasing, all in service of a unique musical personality.

Fronting a five-piece band including bass, piano, drums, trumpet, and saxophone, she performed music from her CD and a couple of jazz standards. The L.A. contingent of the band included pianist and Portland native Sam Hirsh, and Jacob Scesney on sax, men who are about the same age as Reich, who is 29. Veteran Portland musicians David Captein, Martin Zarzar, and Paul Mazzio ably filled the bass, drum and trumpet chairs, respectively.

When I say that tap music runs deep, I do so with the understanding that not so many musicians or composers actually share that assessment. What Reich brings to this conversation is a set of original compositions with intricate breaks and lickety-split runs in unison with the horns and rhythm instruments, drawing on funk, hip-hop, swing, rock & roll and Latin jazz. It’s a contemporary mixture of crisp rhythms and tones informed as much by electronica as bebop. The snappy arrangements provide a springboard for waves of polyrhythmic tap volleys executed with detailed articulations.

Reich pays homage to her mentors not only on the recording and in performance, but relays such information to her  students in the tap dance masterclasses she teaches around the world. While one may recognize certain combinations or steps, one will also understand that these have been augmented, twisted, clipped, chopped, distorted, and swung in new ways by this tapping dynamo. One stunning example of this was during her encore, a trio version of Fats Waller's immortal “Jitterbug Waltz” done with piano and bass accompaniment, where after a dizzying series of virtuoso runs she inserted a few bars of a classic Savion Glover funk step into the jazz waltz without breaking the flow.

An engaging performer with a beaming smile, Reich is branching out into vocalizing as part of her act, delivering a down-tempo rap intro to “Gemini Vibe” before jumping into that number’s slick and taut choreography, also singing a retro-feeling “My Baby Just Cares For Me”. Most impressive were the wordless vocals, where she used her voice to add texture, light, and air in a style reminiscent of 70’s Brazilian jazz icon Flora Purim with Chick Corea.

Pianist Hirsh, a formidable player, has lost none of the youthful enthusiasm and charisma he exhibited as a teenager at sessions hosted by his father Hank, a sax player who raised him on bebop. Saxophonist Scesney displayed remarkable chops all over the alto, with a great feeling for the music, pushing the air at times to create effective distortion. He, Reich, and Hirsh each displayed a thorough knowledge of jazz history going back to the days of Fats Waller and Duke Ellington and extending to the modern era of artists like Christian Scott and some of the more commercial acts that these players tour and record with.           

Also performing was Kelsey Leonard of Portland Tap Alliance, a group that has hosted a tap festival for the last several years in May, and Bethany Massey, whom some readers may remember from her work as a youngster with the Hot Shot Tap Dancers. With their father Randy as their manager, she and her brothers often performed at Portland Saturday Market. Massey and Leonard joined Reich on stage for “It's Tappening” and “Gemini Vibe”, along with a couple of students from the Tap Music Intensive, a dance clinic that Reich lead for three days previous to this gig.

Well-centered in the music and mostly emphasizing the percussive aspects of the form, Reich did at times use her body to create shapes akin to Modern Dance, going low to the floor while executing super-fast shuffles, the shuffling foot crossing and extending behind the other, and angling her torso and pushing/sliding through turns, the instrumentalists carrying the music for a measure or two. There was more expressly-choreographed content in the dances with the other women and during the melody statements of the tunes.  

The energy and sophistication of this performance was extraordinary and Reich has come into her own as a leader in this tap dance Renaissance. With the work on New Change, she has gone from being the impossibly-hip kid sister to valedictorian of her class. With another album in the works which will focus on Latin jazz, audiences and listeners have a lot to look forward to in the realm of tap dance music.

This writer, active for 40 years in the field of tap dance and music as both performer and recording artist, can only take my hat off in admiration for the accomplishments of this inspiring person. She is bringing an intense level of dedication, attention to detail, positivity, and passion to an art form too many people have referred to as a dying art. We tap dancers have always been quick to challenge that notion, and Sarah Reich is an artist who will bring the form new glory and open up avenues for the kids coming up to find meaningful musical expression in the sound of human footsteps. Digging deep with the sound of the feet.

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