It's been almost a year since Ivo Perelman has issued a new recording. For most artists, that would represent a normal release schedule; for Perelman, who had produced 20 or so albums in the previous four years, it marks a significant gap in his creative output. Now come three new albums (Callas as a double-CD, Tenorhood and Counterpoint) at once, which for most artists would signify an attempt to catch up after the year's inactivity. For Perelman, however, it merely returns him to his regular schedule.
Perelman's latest collection of simultaneous releases, all on Leo Records, celebrate artistic heroes new and old, and musical relationships that fall somewhere in the middle. Taken together, they capture much of this remarkable artist's range of technique, emotion, and imagination; any one of them, taken separately, stands as a significant addition to his by now overwhelming discography. They also announce to the listening public that, after a significant physical crisis, Perelman is back in full force.
In 2014, Perelman began to experience pain and bleeding from his mouth. Thinking this signified dental problems, he arranged to visit his native Brazil for oral surgery. But before his trip, he learned that the problem actually originated in his larynx, which had suffered damage from Perelman's preternatural reliance on, and mastery of, the tenor saxophone's altissimo register - the extremely high notes above the instrument's written range. Perelman has made the use of these notes an integral part of his hyper-expressive, enormously flexible saxophone style; indeed, he has brought a previously unimagined command and control to these timbral frontiers. Perelman discovered that his methodology had stressed the larynx; moreover, the stress bore a distinct similarity to that experienced by vocalists, and specifically operatic singers.
Temporarily putting aside the saxophone, Perelman began to contact singers who had suffered the same condition. "I started to take voice lessons, and lessons in breathing technique - and I started to heal," he explains. "If I hadn't done this, I would not be able to play the way I want, and to continue to grow. Now I breathe as if I were a singer; I think as if I am a singer." By incorporating these changes, and by reconstructing his embouchure, Perelman soon healed (and without the services of a dentist). During this time, he began listening intently to opera, and eventually to the recordings of Maria Callas, the "new hero" that inspired his double-CD Callas, featuring Perelman's longtime collaborator Matthew Shipp on piano.
Each of the utterly spontaneous duo performances in this set bears the name of a character portrayed by Callas, the Greek-American diva whose meteoric and tumultuous career in the 1950s remains the stuff of artistic legend. Among the title protagonists brought to mind by these improvised arias are Medea, Lucia di Lammermoor, Norma, and Aida, as well as Mimi from La Bohéme and Rosina from Barber of Seville. Perelman's music has always displayed an almost operatic nature, in its grand emotions and in the epic proportions of his improvisations. But now, as he points out, the influence of Callas has given his sound "a subtle new vocal quality.
"We saxophonists have this thing with reeds: 'You're only as good as your reed.' The free-flowing perfection of a perfect reed is like nirvana for us. And Callas is like the perfect reed, the perfect vibration, because of the perfect use of her vocal apparatus, brought about by her superhuman dedication. This has deeply affected my approach." For Ivo Perelman, Maria Callas is more than a "new hero," and her music more than a helpmate in his recovery; she has become a soulmate across centuries. "I fell in love with her," he says, "It's as if know her. I know what she felt; the feelings she had, I have felt."
Whether because of Callas or due to his joy in the resumption of performing, Perelman's saxophone creations have perhaps never had more emotional resonance. What's more, on this album his collaboration with Shipp has achieved a new high point in what was already a stunning example of musical clairvoyance. Shipp's relationship to Perelman has previously been described as "the Lewis to his Clark" on a "shared expedition of discovery." On Callas, it goes even further, in the words of Leo Records founder Leo Feigin, who writes: "Nobody sounded like this before. These are not just free improvisations; it is a kind of new genre. It is not two people playing but one. It is more than telepathy - so organic, so natural."
Upcoming Ivo Perelman Performances:
July 17 / Michiko Rehearsal Studios / New York, NY
Ivo Perelman · Callas,Counterpoint,Tenorhood
Leo Records · Release Date: May 26, 2014