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Ivo Perelman | “Strings 1” & “Strings 2” | Available November 16 via Leo Records

Ivo Perelman Reaches Into Distant & Recent Past,

Exploring Newly Forged Collaboration With

Violist Mat Maneri On Strings 1 & Strings 2

Double Disc Set Available

November 16 via Leo Records

In recent years, the irrepressible and inexhaustible tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman has forged a special relationship with violist Mat Maneri, with whom he has recorded six albums since 2013. “When I play with him, I have the best of both worlds,” Perelman explains. “I have the wonderful sounds that a string instrument can produce – the bowing, the pizzicato, the sad timbre of the viola, the intimate sound; but I also get the wonderful phrasing of a woodwind player.” This no doubt owes to the influence of the violist’s father, the iconoclastic Boston-based saxophonist & clarinetist Joe Maneri. “I don’t have that relationship with anybody else that plays a string instrument,” adds Perelman, who remarked, after their first encounter, “it’s like each of us is playing both instruments at the same time.” 

This musical compatibility undergirds two new albums that inaugurate the saxophonist’s latest themed series of recordings. Strings 1 and Strings 2 (available November 16 via Leo Records) are the first of seven recordings, each of which showcases the core unit of Perelman and Maneri but in different settings formed by the addition of other artists. Perelman has previously employed a similar methodology to great success. In 2015, he issued five albums built around his relationship with drummer Gerald Cleaver. In 2016, he presented two separate projects in which he and his most frequent collaborator, pianist Matthew Shipp, welcomed varying combinations of bass, drums, and trumpet. Such projects present Perelman as a sort of experimental scientist, adding and subtracting reagents to affect the results, and they represent the most ambitious segment of his discography.

On Strings 1, Perelman and Maneri are joined by two admired violinists known for their improvisation, Mark Feldman and Jason Hwang. This creates, for all intents and purposes, a string quartet – except for the fact that here, the tenor saxophone stands in for the cello. While this quartet represents a unique grouping, it is nonetheless rooted in the distinct similarities linking the tenor and the cello. They share an almost identical written range and tonal color, from luscious mahogany in the low notes to a sweet chartreuse in the upper register; each instrument is considered the most “vocally” expressive instrument within its respective family. (In fact, you could say that the cello sounds something like a “tenor violin.”) What’s more, Perelman has previously stated his tendency for his saxophone playing to “mutate” in the presence of the violin family, saying, “I start to incorporate the bowing, the instruments’ phrasing, in my own playing.”

“I am particularly in love with this session,” Perelman admits now, “because I was not expecting anything like it at all. I thought that maybe this wouldn’t work, that maybe it was too many high-pitched violins. I never thought I would become the ‘cello’ anchoring it all down.”

As is the case with any Perelman album, the music on Strings 1 sprouts from total spontaneity, created with neither written music nor even any outline regarding themes, tempos, form, or harmonic movement. But the results seem anything but haphazard: motifs arise and spread, counterpoint blinks in and out of existence, and passage after passage raises the question of where improvisation ends and true composition begins.

Perelman has always had a strong affinity for the instruments that make up the violin family. The roots of this predilection extend to his youth: as a child in his native Saõ Paulo, Perelman played cello for several years before he turned to the saxophone, and the instrument still haunts him. As he explains when discussing Strings 2 – which marks his first partnership with a stand-alone cellist (as opposed to an earlier recording with the Sirius String Quartet) – he initially leaned toward excluding the instrument from any of the recordings in the “Strings” series. “When there’s a cello there,” he admits, “I kind of become a different animal, because I have sentimental values attached to it. Without the cello, I can work without distractions. Throw a cello in there, and it’s something else. The cello just drives me crazy. It’s a powerful thing; the deep, deep sound – it speaks to my soul immediately.”

Strings 2 features cellist Hank Roberts, whose extraordinary eclecticism – he has played traditional jazz, folk and country music, rock, and avant-garde improvisation – has allowed him to perform with artists ranging from Gary Burton and Rudy Royston, to Bill Frisell, to Sting, to Julius Hemphill and Tim Berne. Like Maneri, Roberts de-emphasizes traditional praxis in favor of expressivity, sublimating pyrotechnics to achieve an elegant balance of resolve and fragility. Strings 2 also marks Perelman’s first on-disc meeting with Ned Rothenberg, among the admired reed virtuosos in post-freedom improvisation, who plays bass clarinet on four tracks.

This represents another rare occurrence in Perelman’s extensive discography of 100-plus albums: until the 2018 release of Kindred Spirits and Spiritual Prayers, each of which comprised duo improvisations by tenor and bass clarinet, Perelman had previously recorded with another woodwind player only once. “This means so much to my development as an artist,” Perelman has said in describing the experience of working with bass clarinet. By including that instrument, along with the cello (his first great love) and the viola of Mat Maneri (another “kindred spirit”), Perelman has assembled a group that reaches into his distant and recent past to point his art in yet another new direction.

About Ivo Perelman

Born in 1961, Ivo Perelman played several instruments before finally adopting the tenor saxophone. Entering the Berklee College of Music in 1981, he focused on the mainstream masters of the tenor sax, as opposed to such pioneering avant-gardists as Albert Ayler, Peter Brötzmann, and John Coltrane – all of whom would later be cited as precedents for his own work. Perelman left Berklee in 1983 and moved to Los Angeles, where he discovered his penchant for post-structure improvisation. “I would go berserk, just playing my own thing,” he explains now. Emboldened by this approach, he began to research the free-jazz saxophonists who had come before him, and in the early 90s he moved to the more inviting artistic milieu of New York.

 Since 2010, he has immersed himself in a “creative frenzy” that shows no sign of diminution; he has recorded more than 30 albums in just the last three years. His impassioned, expressionist approach to the tenor sax continues to captivate (and often mystify) critics and fans, as do his specific performances, vivacious and hyperkinetic, with a variety of like-minded improvisers. Critics have called him “one of the great saxophone virtuosi” and “one of the world’s most prominent avant-garde jazzmen,” and the composer-conductor-scholar Gunther Schuller praised him as “a unique genius” working within “an entire new school of jazz.”

Perelman also maintains a separate career as a visual artist, producing a steady stream of abstract drawings and paintings that have attracted admirers worldwide. He now splits his time between New York, his home for more than 25 years, and São Paulo, Brazil.