Ivo Perelman, the prolific Brazilian saxophonist, is one of the best around. He keeps up a prolific release schedule, so it’s hard to keep up. These albums came out before his Corpo set with Matthew Shipp, which I reviewed a month ago, and show a very different side to his artistry than either that or the brace of full-blooded quartets with Shipp (Serendipity and The Edge) I reviewed a couple of years ago.
His ensembles with Joe Morris bring new aesthetics and dynamics to free jazz. This is not the Joe Morris recently heard playing abrasive electric guitar on Rare Noise releases by groups such as The Spanish Donkey and Slobber Pup. That’s to say, it’s the same individual, but in a totally different guise. Here’s Morris playing acoustic guitar on the sensuous Blue, and acoustic bass on Breaking Point.
Perelman emphasises that Blue (Leo) is not a blues record – there are no blues clichés or chord progressions – but “a blue record … it has the feeling of the colour blue.” And, as he says, its vibe is one of intimacy and introspection. He thought the sessions might not be a success, primarily because of the acoustic guitar’s lack of resonance, and perhaps the music does lack the natural assurance of his duets with vibraphone player Karl Berger, The Hitchhiker, Corpo‘s companion release (not reviewed here, but just as highly recommended).
What it does have is profound sensuality in exchanges of exploratory anticipation and consummation.
There are, not surprisingly for a previously untested duo configuration, passages of respectful accommodation, and these yield occasional solos of striking individuality, such as Morris’ fierce solo “Instant”, and the spasms of nervous energy that introduce the ultimately lovely condensed miniature “Bluebird”.
There are other heated moments besides: an extraordinary spasmic fluxion on “wee Hours”, the anguished ending to “Tight Rope”; but unlike, say, the crabbed, compact attack of guitarist John Russell, Maneri’s acoustic style is mostly (on this occasion, at least) supple, caressing, and rivulet-clear, as he engages the ever-responsive Perelman in nimble manoeuvres.
Morris’ pliant, deeply resonant bass on Breaking Point couldn’t contrast more to his spartan acoustic guitar sound. Here, he and Perelman are joined by violist Mat Maneri and Gerald Cleaver, Perelman’s go-to drummer: they’ve recorded numerous trio dates with Morris over time.
Morris (then playing electric guitar) and Maneri (on electric violin) once recorded a superb trio session for ECM with Maneri’s reeds-playing father Joe (Three Men Walking, 1996) – one of the Maneri’s striking microtonal improvisations. Perelman and Maneri presumably titled their own, much later duo set Two Men Walking (Leo, 2014) to acknowledge its precedent. Breaking Point goes further, carving out a new accommodation of free jazz and new music.
The album’s opening cut, “Harsh Moon” is an intense, combative workout, catching fire after the bowed instrument’s stark opening negotiation.
“Dance Matters” is only allusive to its title until Perelman slips in some late melodicism. Until then Perelman and Maneri play in close if elliptical communion: kudos also to Gerald Cleaver, apparently born in free time, and his subtly expansive, abstract-expressionist partnership with Morris.
“Catch 22” burns off all the quartet’s latent ferocity in a superheated, exhilarating, high-speed blaze through its six intense minutes. And after that, the session really hits its sweet spot.
“The Haunted French Horn” has Maneri and Perelman in slithery symbiosis, and Morris, on the bull fiddle, sounding not unlike William Parker at times, maintaining free-pulse connections to the spirit and rhythm of bred-in-the-bone Jazz. This is, nevertheless, more a chamber music hybrid than free jazz per se.
“The Forest of Feet and Bass Drums”, at just under 15 minutes comfortably the longest of the seven pieces here, could only be free music. The quartet sound, at first, so at ease in an expanse of free time that I expected the mood to last. But Cleaver’s playing moves from swing, pulse and bustle symbiosis to generative friction behind Perelman’s early assertion of individuality and Maneri’s responsive challenge. He also then plays a solo break, which bridges to the more subdued and refined collective rapprochement of an extended coda. Superb.
“Breaking Point” ends the album as a spacious, playful vehicle for spontaneous collective expressivity: welcome lightness after the former intensities.
I’ve already marked Perelman as one of the finest saxophonists around. If in doubt, note the exceptional calibre of the musicians pooled around him: he doesn’t maintain a group so much as a circle. But hopefully Breaking Point won’t be the last from this particularly fine quartet, because it’s one of the very best of Perelman’s many releases to date.
Blue: Ivo Perelman tenor sax; Joe Morris acoustic guitar.
Breaking Point: Ivo Perelman tenor sax; Mat Maneri viola; Joe Morris bass; Gerald Cleaver drums.
Ivo Perelman, Joe Morris, Balazs Pandi – One.
The Spanish Donkey / Joe Morris Quartet – Raoul / Balance.
Perelman Shipp Parker Cleaver / Perelman Shipp Bisio Dickey – Serendipity / The Edge.