Tuesday, June 08, 2021

CD Review: Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp - Special Edition Box / Ivo Perelman Trio - Garden of Jewels

Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp
Special Edition Box

Ivo Perelman Trio
Garden of Jewels

Ivo Perelman is not a tenor saxophonist who can be heard blowing overtones from the bottom range of his horn. In fact, Perelman spends very little time on these new releases in the low end of his horn, preferring the middle register and upper, altissimo range of it. Once again, his mastery of high harmonics extends ideas he begins in a lower register, taking them way up the octave into a range that might seem impossible or a challenge at best for most tenor players. For Perelman it seems completely natural.

Both of these releases find the saxophonist in the company of his longtime collaborator Matthew Shipp (piano). Garden of Jewels brings drummer Whit Dickey into the fold. Like everything Perelman does, both sets of music are completely improvised, although the deep connection between the players often makes things sound like they could be working from a structure.

For the listener new to the Perelman oeuvre and uncertain where to begin in to dive into his massive catalog, Special Edition Box can be a valuable entry point. The SMP release features a 51-minute studio session, Procedural Language, along with a live Blue-Ray disc of a 2019 performance in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Finally, Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg's 47-page book Embrace of the Souls provides a lot of insight into the music.

The 12 tracks are simply numbered without titles. From the beginning, Perelman and Shipp play with symmetry, one anticipating the other. In Track 5, the saxophonist really straddles a deep smoky romantic tone with a tension that has wails and whines lurking just beneath the surface. Shipp does walking minor underneath. I like when he holds a note on tenor to see how Shipp will respond. The way the track ends doesn't resolve but stops, as if to say, "There's more coming."

On Track 9, Shipp hits single chords and lets them ring while Perelman plays in the upper register. not sounding icy or rough all the time, sometimes delicate and pensive. When Shipp settles on one chord and keeps it coming, the drama builds and the final octave leap by Perelman feels especially effective.

While it can be valuable to have the duo's performances in tracks ranging from two to seven minutes a piece, there's something compelling about hearing them playing continuously for an hour. (A previous SMP release, Live at Nuremberg, really sold me with a 55-minute performance followed by a four-minute encore.) The Blue-Ray Live at Sao-Paulo at SESC finds the duo in a spirited conversation, exploring all manner of ideas, perhaps expanding on things they did in the studio session (which was recorded earlier that year) but also taking it new places. At times, Perelman's mid-range and softer playing gets overpowered a bit in the swell of the piano, but his ideas can still be felt. Seeing the two players in action - especially Shipp, whose hands seem to simply flow over the keys - is a rare treat for those who don't get to hear them live.

Schouwburg's book Embrace of the Souls complements the music, offering insight into this recording and earlier releases. While free jazz writing can sometimes border on overly esoteric imagery or heavy metaphors, he avoids that. A blogger in his own right, Schouwburg writes personally about the music, offering plenty of examples of how the music has impacted him, which can go a long way in making this often-labelled "noisy" music seem beautiful.

The box is available in a limited edition of 360 copies.

Perelman is skilled at the upper register melodic inventions, but when he gets into the middle range of his horn, or goes a little lower, he reveals a side that owes more to the smoky sound of Ben Webster or Coleman Hawkins. It might be fleeting moments here and there but it lasts long enough to impress the listener with the idea that this music has lyrical qualities to it as well. His breathy entrance on the opening title track says a great deal about him. Perelman enters like he's calling a meeting to order, soft but firm, before hitting some wide vibrato. There's something powerful about the opening wail of "Amethyst." His whole horn seems to reverberate with the high notes that cue the trio. 

On Garden of Jewels, the addition of Dickey to the Perelman/Shipp axis does not change the sonic qualities all that much. Dickey is not a raucous player, instead coming across as more thoughtful, listening first and reacting second, rather than simply crashing into the party. His approach incorporate the lessons he learned from the late Milford Graves. Some of it feels extremely subtle - cymbal crashes here, cymbal rolls there, followed by a roll on the kit - to the point where you have to focus closely on him to figure out where he is. But therein lies the power of a good session, which compels you to listen closely.

With Ivo Perelman, it's tempting to say that his albums could be considered like journal entries - documents of what he was doing on a particular date with a particular group of friends. But that might sell it short because these are live documents (whether or not they are made in front of an audience) where he creates in the moment. To compare it to the written word doesn't do it justice. It's better to listen. And read.