Ivo Perelman, the Brazilian saxophonist, is among the most prolific recording artists around: 15 albums and counting, mostly issued by Leo, and that’s just over the past three years. I interviewed Perelman in 1998, and he described the urge behind his playing, when he’d started out as a cellist ten years before that, in primal terms: “It just used to come out of me. How can I express this in English…Something came down on me. It was frustrating because I would practice lines, and then, when it was time to play, I became that thing, that ferocious beast. It was horrible because I couldn’t restrain myself.” And on subsequently discovering saxophone? “It was love at first sight, I felt totally at one with the instrument…I was being it when I was playing.”
Well, Perelman’s had a quarter of a century to master that impetus, and in recent groups, where he often leads players otherwise closely associated with the late, titanic tenor saxophonist/composer David S Ware, he’s steeling himself against the best.
Perelman, Shipp, Parker, Cleaver – Serendipity (Leo)
Ivo Perelman tenor sax; Matthew Shipp piano; William Parker bass; Gerald Cleaver drums.
Serendipity resulted from of a November 2011 recording session that was originally planned to document a trio of Perelman, Shipp and Cleaver. But one of them was late to the session, so William Parker was called in to dep, only for the latecomer to turn up after all.
A single track of just over 43 minutes duration, “Serendipity” is full-immersion, long-form group improvisation. The quartet play with fervid intensity from the start, and there’s no letup until nearly seventeen minutes in, where Perelman drops out and the focus shifts to Shipp, the pianist casually imperious, ruminatively essaying harmonic possibilities. Thereafter there’s a good deal of democratically jazzy interplay, but the tension never dissipates, even at the eye of the storm, half-way in, where a winding down to near-silence precedes a bass solo of intricate, inscrutably compelling logic. Parker’s double bass playing is absolutely phenomenal throughout.
The route to the performance endgame gradually coalesces around Cleaver’s bustling percussive impetus and Parker’s driving bass thump. With Shipp laying out, Perelman moves through passages of throaty, declamatory playing with more than a suggestion of gospelized R&B, and the rhythmists respond with backbeats and a solid spine of bass thrum that carries the momentum.
In the end, a high degree of focus all around yields a superb distillation of form.
Ivo Perelman / Matthew Shipp / Michael Bisio / Whit Dickey – The Edge (Leo)
Ivo Perelman tenor sax; Matthew Shipp piano; Michael Bisio bass; Whit Dickey drums.
The pieces on The Edge, recorded June 2012, are more concise, and although collectively credited sound more like compositions than unstructured improvisations. Of those I’ve heard, this is Perelman’s most satisfyingly rounded album to date.
An emotive surge of arco bass begins “Clarinblea”, preceding Perelman and co’s entry a theme reminiscent of mid ’60s Coltrane. It’s immediately, immensely powerful. Perelman is particularly inspired, blending notes shaped through surges of circular breathing with bold, soulful twists of lyricism.
“Lancaster” , taken at a faster tempo, sour, pits grizzled rasping from Perelman against the thick, woody presence of Bisio’s bass thrum. At first the bassist emphatically outpaces his colleagues, prompting Shipp and Dickey to join the flow uptempo, eventually drawing Perelman in, where he shapes brief licks around gasps for air before asserting his lead and shaping more melodically rounded lines.
Matthew Shipp shapes “The Edge” into a series of rippling ostinatos that drive the group into impulsive, circling patterns of interlocking rhythm. It’s bookended by “Epigraph” and “Zapotecs”, each just under a minute long. The former is an exploratory piece for sax and percussion, a taster for the fully charged duet that’s heralded by Dickey’s polyrhythmic drum rolls on the intro to “Fatal Thorns”, a highly-charged bass-less trio.
Shipp and Perelman get a brief interval to themselves on “Prelude” (0:44) – which is the prelude to “Volcanic”, an initially plastic number on which the quartet maintain separation and equilibrium throughout, but develop a stately theme – carried most implacably by Shipp – into a searing flow of rhythmic impetus and melodic invention. This is really thrilling stuff, with an expertly modulated cooling off to cap it off.
For all the ease of comparisons to David S Ware, the saxophonist Perelman brings most readily to mind is Archie Shepp: I hear in Perelman something approximating a synthesis of Shepp’s early fire music and his more traditionally observant mature phase. This album ends with a nod to the tradition, “Websterisms”, on which Perelman plays with a gruffness and warmth of sentiment while the others play around him imparting a loosely propulsive rhythm dynamic.
* Perelman, Shipp and Cleaver recorded their trio session one week after Serendipity. Leo issued the resulting album, The Foreign Legion, back in 2012. Perelman and Cleaver, incidentally, have also recorded one album together with both Shipp and Morris, The Hour of the Star (2011); and two others omitting Shipp, Family Ties and Living Jelly (both 2012), all on Leo.