At this point, those familiar with the Brazilian-born saxophone pioneer Ivo Perelman will find nothing surprising about his simultaneous release of three new albums. For most musicians, such largesse would be unthinkable. For Perelman, it is now par for the course: he released his previous three albums together in October of 2012, after releasing two others on the same day only a few months earlier.
Now come The Art Of The Duet, v. 1; the quartet album The Edge; and another quartet album, originally designed as a trio date, called Serendipity. The release of these albums extends the remarkable period of creative intensity that has marked Perelman’s last three years (during which the visionary saxist has released 13 albums). Furthermore, the artist has released 51 albums in total as a leader, since his 1989 self-titled debut. This triple release also continues the saga of Perelman’s uncharted and adventurous creative journey – but this time with a significant shift in focus.
Most of Perelman’s recent recordings have presented various deconstructions of his core quartet, comprising pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist and guitarist Joe Morris, and drummer Gerald Cleaver. On these three newest releases, however, Perelman collaborates with several other musicians - including the members of Shipp’s own working trio – to create various contexts in which to explore the bond between himself and the pianist, a relationship which has steadily matured into one of the most satisfying in modern music.
As the title suggests, the first of these - The Art Of The Duet, v. 1- also inaugurates a series of recordings (three in all) that feature Perelman and Shipp alone, in the most intimate of musical settings. In three recording sessions over the course of two weeks, the saxophonist and pianist created some 40 pieces out of thin air – all of them completely improvised, with not a note written or discussed beforehand, in keeping with Perelman’s preferred modus operandi. In doing so, they discard every conventional foundation of traditional music – chord schemes, predetermined tempo, time signature – and replace them with the adhesive chemistry of pure sound.
“Two quite different, possibly incompatible musical personalities?,” asks Brian Morton, co-author of the renowned Penguin Guide To Jazz, in one of the liner essays for The Art Of The Duet, v. 1. ”Two men from whom one can only expect an interesting collision of philosophies, the one pulling towards disorder and inclusion, the other tending toward careful winnowing of ideas and selective presentation of only those which work unambiguously?” Despite this dichotomy posed by Morton, though, the duo performances attain a rare cohesion. As Morton goes on to say: “These are not random explorations. They are not the transcript of a casual and heavily elided ‘conversation,’ but are instead the culmination of a long and thoughtful association, which has marked a singular path of evolution for both artists.
“The brilliant and scholarly saxophonist Dave Liebman, in his own liner essay, remarks on this phenomenon as well, writing that “The two communicate at times as one, totally enmeshed in their dialogue with no preset requirements except to be in the moment, to be musical and most of all generous in spirit to each other.” Adds veteran music critic Neil Tesser (in the third liner essay), “There’s nothing ethereal about these duets. Just the opposite: they have structure and purpose that belie the process of completely spontaneous improvisation. Rather than wisps of smoke, they bristle with flesh and bone. Without the slightest programmatic conceit, they present concrete (if unfamiliar) images, crystallized emotions; they exist as sonic sculptures that prove as irreducible as they are indelible.”
Perelman’s vociferous artistic independence might suggest a headstrong, rigidly uncompromising leader. But throughout his career, he has actually revealed himself to be a surprisingly flexible and open-minded collaborator. On The Edge, he joins forces with Shipp’s working trio (bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey) for a set that displays the raw power of first meetings: even though Perelman has worked separately with the members of Shipp’s band, this marks the first recording in which he encounters the trio as a whole. In this configuration, Shipp plays an even more pivotal role than he does as a member of Perelman’s own quartet; it is, after all, the pianist’s band (whose Elastic Aspectswas named one of the year’s 50 best albums in Rhapsody.com’s 2012 Jazz Critics Poll). On The Edge, he attains full co-leadership status, in music if not in a name.
The nine pieces on The Edge run a gamut, from quiet to forceful and mysterious to playful, several of them invoking Perelman’s command of the saxophone’s squeaky-high altissimo range. On this album, as on the 2012 albums The Clairvoyant and The Gift, Perelman uses his recent studies of the Baroque Era’s valveless “natural trumpet” to further enhance his almost freakish facility with this extended range of the saxophone. Through it all, he retains a lyrical romanticism rarely heard in this range, and which remains a hallmark of his work.
The aptly named Serendipity employs a radically different approach; taken with The Edge, explains Perelman, “it typifies what a change in personnel can originate in creative music.” It was originally designed as a trio date with Shipp and drummer Cleaver. But when one of the musicians was delayed (Perelman won’t say which one), he put in a call to the venerated bassist William Parker, an old friend and former collaborator, to fill out the trio. But when the delayed musician also showed up, “It became a quartet recording on the spot,” says Perelman. To accommodate the sudden shift, the album became a one-track, 45-minute long performance – but one transformed into a remarkably varied suite, thanks to its mutating themes, transformations of mood, and deep reservoir of creative energy, replenished again and again by Parker’s unexpected participation.
Serendipity thus displays yet another aspect of the Perelman-Shipp dynamic, as the two principal melodists spur and contain an epic quartet free-for-all, so dramatically separated in tone and intent from the individuated pieces on The Edge.
Born in 1961 in São Paulo, Brazil, Perelman excelled at classical guitar before finally gravitating to the tenor saxophone. His initial influences – cool jazz saxophonists Stan Getz and Paul Desmond – could hardly have presaged the galvanic, iconoclastic improvisations that have become Perelman’s stock-in-trade. But those early influences helped shape the romantic warrior at the heart of his most heated musical adventures.
In 1981 he entered Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he focused on the mainstream masters of the tenor sax to the exclusion of such pioneering avant-gardists as Albert Ayler, Peter Brötzmann, and John Coltrane – all of whom would later be cited as precedents for Perelman’s own work. He left Berklee in 1983 and moved to Los Angeles, where he soon discovered his penchant for post-structure improvisation; emboldened by this approach, he began to research the free-jazz saxists who had come before him. In the early 90s he moved to the more inviting artistic milieu of New York, where he lives to this day.
Critics have lauded Perelman’s no-holds-barred saxophone style, on the one hand calling him “tremendously lyrical” (Gary Giddins) and, on the other, “the most intense, disturbing, tormenting sax player alive” (Françoise Couture in Desire Actuel). The Wire described him as “a leather-lunged monster with an expressive rasp, who can rage and spit in violence, yet still leave you feeling heartbroken” (The Wire), and the blog improvandsounds.com called his playing “miraculously unique” and referenced his “piercing, burning, meaningfully warm, lyrically expressive, dream-awakening sounds that explode with an unrivalled urgency.”
A saxophonist of such technical and emotional range demands a pianist of similarly expansive intensity. As these latest recordings prove, Perelman has found that and more in Matthew Shipp – the Dave Brubeck to his Paul Desmond; the McCoy Tyner to his John Coltrane; and perhaps most fittingly, on their shared expedition of discovery, the Lewis to his Clark.