“A modern day saxophone colossus” (Echoes); “The finest improvisational genius of our time” (Bop-N-Jazz); “one of the great saxophone virtuosi and exponents of spontaneous composition to have emerged in the past three decades” (Jazzwise) – these represent just some of the accolades that pour in with each new set of releases by Ivo Perelman. This extraordinary artist continues to map new territory for his chosen instrument, the tenor saxophone. And by regularly releasing multiple albums documenting his explorations, he provides listeners with multiple avenues into his music.
But the release of five albums at once (all available on Leo Records) signifies a herculean effort even for Perelman. What’s more, each of these albums presents a different array of musical cohorts, a different format, and a different concept. “Interestingly,” Perelman notes, “this grouping of albums will feature all of the musicians that I’ve been collaborating with in the past several years”–a list that comprises violist Mat Maneri, keyboardists Matthew Shipp and Karl Berger, bassists Michael Bisio and Joe Morris (who also plays acoustic guitar), and drummers Gerald Cleaver and Whit Dickey.
Three of these albums–the duo discs Corpo and Blue, and the quartet effort Soul—were recorded in a two-week period; they exploit a major theoretical breakthrough that Perelman experienced on an extended stay in Brazil, the nation of his birth. In Autumn of 2015, he traveled to São Paolo to oversee a major exhibition of his work in the visual arts. (Perelman spends approximately half his time producing highly-sought drawings and paintings.) He ended up staying nearly half a year, far removed from the daily grind of his life in New York, and this hiatus “put my brain in a different mode,” he said upon his return. “I got away from the need to ‘achieve’ something. I relaxed.”
He also began to revisit the serialist (12-tone) composers–Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg, Anton Webern–which led to an important realization. The core tenet of serialism is that each note in the scale exerts equal weight; from that, Perelman focused on the corollary that each interval–the distance between any pitch and the one that follows–should be treated with the same egalitarianism. “The intervallic system has become my dogma now,” he explains in the liner notes to Corpo. “Every interval is of equal importance…I don’t have to be modal, or tonal, or atonal. All the intervals, a third or a seventh or a fifth, these all have the same importance for me now.” This has led to new practice regimens and a corresponding emancipation of Perelman’s already fluid approach to melody as well as timbre.
Corpo, the first album recorded by Perelman upon his return to New York, stars pianist Matthew Shipp, the saxophonist’s longtime musical soul-mate. In 14 tracks of moderate length, the disc offers evidence of Perelman’s new “intervallic system,” as well as a purified distillation of an ever-evolving musical partnership that has been compared to Brubeck/Desmond and Coltrane/Tyner. Says pianist Shipp, in his liner essay for the album: “Corpo is the ultimate coming together of everything Ivo and I have been working on for years. . . . the apotheosis of the Perelman/Shipp duo cosmos. Our [previous album] Callas was a breakthrough for us; Corpo is the ultimate flowering.”
One week after Corpo, Perelman and Shipp returned to the studio; they were joined by bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey to record Soul, which, as its name suggests, constitutes a companion piece to Corpo (the Portuguese word for “body”). More than simply “fleshing out” the Perelman-Shipp duo, the added musicians – whose many sessions with Perelman have given them intimate knowledge of how his music takes shape, in the studio, and without pre-existing blueprints for the improvisations – effortlessly integrate themselves into these performances. “Bisio underscores the music with supple muscle, finding valuable notes in between those that make up Shipp’s chords,” writes liner annotator Neil Tesser, while “Dickey adds color and texture that peer into the swirl of melodies and light them from within.”
Then, one week after the Soul date, Perelman met with bassist/guitarist Joe Morris to record Blue. The album marks the first time Perelman, despite all the shifting contextual landscapes shaping his career, has ever recorded in a duo of tenor sax and unamplified guitar. “With an instrument that has resonance, where the notes have a long decay,” Perelman explains, “you’re always being fed and nourished as the sound remains in mid-air. But with acoustic guitar, the moment that Joe lifts his finger from the string, the sound dies. You’re all alone. So that was the challenge for me, to play with something so soft-spoken.” None of the tracks are actual 12- or 16-bar blues compositions, of course, since nothing was composed prior to what took place in the studio; rather, says the musician/painter, “It has the feeling of the color blue,” in all the variations of that hue.
The Hitchhiker marks another “first” for Perelman; it pairs him with Karl Berger on vibraphone to mark the only time in the saxophonist’s career that he has recorded with that instrument. Perelman first worked with Berger – the pioneering composer and arranger of new music (within and beyond jazz) and co-founder, with Ornette Coleman, of the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, New York – on Reverie (2014), but on that project, Berger played piano. The vibraphone has a reduced potential for the thick chords available to a pianist, so in that sense, says Perelman, “he’s giving me a condensed scheme” of harmonic potentialities. A possible pitfall? No; it only “made me focus more,” says Perelman.
The final album in this release, The Breaking Point, continues Perelman’s highly successful partnership with violist Mat Maneri, but this time in a quartet format; previous Perelman-Maneri matchups had occurred only in duo or trio settings. “I had in my mind what it would sound like in a more powerful setting, with drums,” says Perelman. With bassist Joe Morris and drummer Gerald Cleaver, the disc constitutes yet one more rarity for Perelman: in his entire discography, this is the third time he has ever employed the “traditional” free-jazz format of bass and drums supporting two front-line melody instruments. In the progression of its seven tracks, the album functions as a sort of expanded symphonic suite.