EFFLORESCENCE. Vol. 1 / PERELMAN-SHIPP: Hibiscus. Cosmos. Rose. Lotus. Amaryllis. Zinnia. Iris. Bleeding Heart. Moonflower. Peony. Clematis. Tiger Lily. Mandevilla. Cape Primrose. Quince. Columbine. Hydrangea. Jacob’s Ladder. Yellow Bell. Trilliun. Nigella. Helenium. Goldenrod. Forsythia. Sage. Clover. Heather. Sweet Pea. Veronica. Strawflower. Aster. Catmint. Honeysuckle. Impatiens. Globeflower. Jasmine. Sweet William. Nightshade. Lilac. Snapdragon. Heath. Narcissus. Lupine. Shasta’s Daisy. Rosilla. Snowdrop. Carnation. Orchid. Tiger Flower / Ivo Perelman, t-sax; Matthew Shipp, pno / Leo Records CDLR 866/69
From the publicity sheet for this set:
Limited edition, spectacular 4-CD box…In 2018, when the saxophonist and pianist released a 3-CD set entitled ONENESS< they made an emphatic statement that there would be no more duo recording in the near future: “for now there is nothing more to day.” Yet, several months later they found themselves in the studio bursting with creativity…
Apparently so, because in addition to the fact that we now have this 4-CD set, it is labeled as “Volume 1,” which indicates to me that there is a Volume 2 to follow. Moreover, since I don’t recall their 2018 3-CD set I probably felt lost by the extreme far-outness of it all (often the case for me with “free jazz”), but in this set I found myself drawn in to their sound world from the very first track.
As a pianist, Shipp of course has the ability to play both single-note lines and chords, though most of the time here he sticks to the former. Perelman, whose work sometimes thrills me and at other times strikes me as hyper-extreme, really seemed to be listening to his piano partner on this occasion and decided to go with the flow instead of fighting it. Indeed, on track 2 of the first CD (Cosmos) and track 12 of the third (Sweet William) the saxist actually plays something akin to a melody, making the work more attractive and, in my view, more effective.
Each of the 49 pieces on this set is named after a flower. At first I thought that Cosmos might be an exception, but lo and behold, there is a Cosmos flower which is a member of the sunflower family. But of course the titles are arbitrary anyway; I doubt that either musician consulted a conservatory and selected flowers to meditate on musically. But I will say this: apparently the experience that both musicians have gotten from playing with each other frequently in live concerts has had a positive effect on their musical conversation. Shipp seems to know how to lead Perelman, and Perelman seems to know, almost intuitively, where Shipp is going. The saxist also appears here to be listening to the specific tonalities or chords played by the pianist, which somewhat controls his “flyaway” tendencies. I know that there are free-jazz aficionados who enjoy the squawking and squealing sounds that Perelman often makes on the tenor sax, and he doesn’t completely eliminate them on this set, but rather uses them in moderation. The lines played by the saxist, at least on this set, all seem to go somewhere. None of them reach for the stars but end up missing them.
Much of the time, in fact, Perelman sticks to his middle range, which produces a warm sound that I find very appealing. At certain moments, such as the beginning of Moonflower, Perelman’s tenor almost sounds like a French horn. Sadly, this track was defective on my CD; the last 10 seconds cut off the music and produced only silence. For his part, Shipp does not play figures as outré or as abstract as those that Cecil Taylor played, choosing to tie most of his improvisations to a specific scale or mode (actually the same thing for those who really know music, since a “mode” is just one of the scales used by the Greeks before our modern-day tempered scale was worked out). Nonetheless, I recommend listening to only one CD at a time if you’re really paying attention to what is going on, which you should be anyway.
There is another reason why I liked these performances, and that is their lack of pretentiousness. I find that in much of the modern free jazz I hear, there seems to be an exhibitionist tendency as if to say, “Wow, just listen to the noises I can make! Aren’t they avant-garde?” Well, no, not really. When one sleeps, the synapses in the brain work themselves loose from their moorings as random thoughts go flying through your subconscious, creating a pattern that we call a dream. Although based on reality, a dream generally includes many ridiculous or impossible scenarios. If you can remember these after you wake up, they may make for some entertaining stories to tell your friends or significant other, but although based on something that may have actually happened to you they are not reality. The same thing is true of free jazz. If it’s not based on at least some elements that one can hold onto as sensible or logical, it is nothing more than loose synapses flying out of control to produce a scattergun effect. I’m not into scattergun effects.
By the time I reached Iris on CD 1, I was firmly convinced of this music’s worth. There are indeed some flyaway subconscious patterns that crop up here and there, but for the most part this is real music. The question, however, is whether or not it is really “jazz.” Although it is all improvised, not a single piece in this set has what I would call a jazz beat except for the very opening of Quince on CD 2, though Perelman’s playing occasionally leans in that direction. Of course, we encountered this question for the first time in the 1960s when free jazz first firmly established itself as a form of the music, but to me it has always been, and remains, an extension of the music we call jazz and not necessarily jazz itself. At least, that’s my perception of it, and I stand by it because for me all music has to have some semblance of shape or form in order to be appealing. If the music never actually goes anywhere, what you have is just a sequence of sounds that I call “schlumph.” This set is different. Each track on each of these four CDs bears careful listening, because each is a gem in its own right. Listen, for instance, to the passage beginning at about 1:25 on Triullium, where Shipp suddenly increases the tempo, playing fast quadruple-time figures. Perelman follows him almost immediately, knowing intuitively where he is going and what he is going to do. Another good example is Goldenrod, where the duo sets up a gentle rocking motion in the rhythm and go with it for another minute or so before moving on to the next idea. And even when Shipp starts the music off in a dark, almost ominous mood, as in Heather (misnamed if you ask me…I think Venus Fly Trap would have been more appropriate, or better yet, Little Shop of Horrors), Perelman is able to fit right in and help him move the musical ideas forward rather than get bogged down. At other moments, such as in Veronica, some of these pieces almost sound like modern classical music. In the opening of Honeysuckle the duo almost create a swing tune in the first few bars before going outside to explore their surroundings. On Impatiens, Shipp’s tapping on the body of the piano almost sounds as if there is a bass present. By and large, in each and every track you get the feeling that something new and interesting is about to happen, and it usually does.
Bottom line, I really believe that this set is strong testimony to the advantage of two musicians who have worked together for a long time. Recently, I tried to review a free jazz concert in which a dozen avant-gardists were thrown together for the very first time. None of their music made any sense to me. This set makes a lot of sense, and I liked each and every track. Good job, Ivo and Matt!
—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley
Follow me on Twitter (@artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)