In a career that now numbers more than 80 recordings under his own name, Ivo Perelman has established a variety of new benchmarks. He has developed an unsurpassed facility for integrating the tenor saxophone's extra-high altissimo octaves with the instrument's conventional range, bringing a new edge and polish to the concept of extended technique. To an extraordinary degree, he has engaged in the daredevil pursuit of utter spontaneity, in stupefying cogent recording sessions that start and end without written compositions or thematic elements, harmonic frameworks or preset tempos. He has assembled a world-class workshop of like-minded musicians on whom to draw for each new project, evincing a sorcerer's touch for mixing these "ingredients" in novel ways and he has resorted to releasing several albums simultaneously, in order to keep pace with his runaway imagination and productivity.
In this latest fusillade of simultaneously released albums, Perelman places his saxophone in familiar settings as well as new ones. The familiar include his longstanding duo with pianist Matthew Shipp and other frequent colleagues. But this group of albums also features four musicians with whom Perelman had never performed with before these recordings, which signals a turning point in his work. One of these new associations--with trumpeter Nate Wooley, acclaimed for his solo trumpet recitals and mastery of "extreme sound"--marks the first time Perelman has ever employed the tenor-and-trumpet context that has characterized so many jazz groups.
"This has never happened with me," marvels Perelman, whose artistic philosophy requires an almost telepathic communication among collaborators. "Now I'm opening up to every musician on earth. It's like a rebirth--the beginning of a new phase. It's not that I have exhausted the musical potential with my favorite gang. But it's time to expand and this will reflect a growth within my gang. If you socialize and talk with other people, it's good for your old friends too."
The "new friends" include the septuagenarian percussion marvel Bobby Kapp (who appeared with Perelman and Shipp just once, on the 2017 album Tarvos) and two lesser-known drummers: the Baltimore-based Jeff Cosgrove and the German-born Joe Hertenstein. In addition, Gerald Cleaver, one of Perelman's favored drummers, returns to anchor a pianoless quartet featuring two horns. "With every new batch of recordings, I always try to focus on some different methodology, so I derive more learning in each batch. And what I learned here is: What a difference a drummer makes. In this batch Matt snd I are confronted with a variety of drummers, and I can see what that does to our relationship," states Perelman. Perelman has long marched to the beat of a different drummer, but that proves especially true on these discs.
Two albums in this release feature no drummer at all however, and one of them--the Perelman-Shipp Duo's Live In Brussels--provides the key to another recent development in Perelman's music. While discerning listeners have long detected a deep and iconoclastic lyricism within the saxophonist's vortex of extended technique and non-traditional sounds, on Brussels he marks his improvised melodies with more long tones in the saxophone's conventional range. He allows the flow of line to play out with a new level of passion and grace, contrasting with his unparalleled command of the instrument's stratosphere.
In annotating Brussels, the Belgian vocalist Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg describes the almost mystical atmosphere at L'Archiduc, the famed performance space where the duo performed in May of 2017. "It is designed in a half-circle around the piano, the stage located approximately at the center; the hand-made cocktail bar hugs the curve, and an overlooking mezzanine runs around the small room beneath the slightly concave ceiling," he writes. Painting a picture of the audience for this concert, he describes them as "literally submerged in the flow of sound, listening with their eyes, watching the music closely in completely relaxed posture, gripped with concentration." Perelman himself believes that this intimate setting helped propel the duo to new heights in their already telepathic communication, saying, "It's like we were inside the crowd, so the nature of the music reflects that intense experience." Upon their return to the U.S., Perelman found that his heightened communication had left a lasting impact, the reflection of which can be heard in the other albums as well.
The Perelman-Shipp Duo expands to a trio with drums on two of these discs. Perelman says that with Cosgrove, the drummer on Live In Baltimore, "I heard things that I never did with Matt before, not in a live performance." Credit an approach to the drums that veteran journalist Neil Tesser (who has extensively chronicled Perelman's work) calls low-key--which "does not mean low-energy," Tesser writes. "But it does indicate the level of restraint that imbues his playing: an allocation of resources; the sense of power in reserve." Hertenstein epitomizes a completely different style on the album Scalene. As Perelman says, "He is such a busy drummer, but in the best way; he is not limited by what is known as 'playing drums' in a conventional group. He fills all the space with such beauty, and we had to adapt to that."
Of the band that appears on the album Heptagon--with Shipp, drummer Kapp, and the titanic bassist and early musical partner William Parker--Perelman says simply, "This is a quartet of very strong personalities. I feel like I'm playing with giants here." Perelman has only occasionally worked in this tried-and-true format, the "power quartet" comprising a conventionally instrumented rhythm section, and this set measures up to all such past encounters.
The remaining two albums--another quartet date, Octagon, and the trio album Philosopher's Stone--both star Wooley, culminating a 10-year goal of working with the trumpeter. "When I first heard him, in a duo with Shipp, I thought, 'We have to do this.' But our schedules prevented it." So did Perelman's confidence that he could thrive in the two-horn format: "Tenor and trumpet are a match made in heaven, the iconic dichotomy. But I was very hesitant to do that because the trumpet is so dominant. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to find my space within that time-tested format. But I did, thanks to Wooley's artistry--because I don't think he plays the trumpet; he plays music."
Ivo Perelman · Live in Brussels, Live in Baltimore,
Scalene, Heptagon, Octagon, Philosopher's Stone
Leo Records · Release Date: October 6, 2017