Perelman & Shipp Live in Nuremberg


LIVE IN NUREMBERG / Spontaneous improvisations / Ivo Perelman, t-sax; Matthew Shipp, pno / SMP Records, no number (live: Nuremberg, June 26, 2019)

This remarkable album, recorded at a live concert, presents two of the most prominent members of the free jazz fraternity in an extended improvisation lasting almost 56 minutes followed by a shorter “encore” lasting four. In their previous studio recordings which I have heard, Perelman’s playing has been tempered to some extent by the chords and structure that Shipp feeds him. This concert is no exception.

The pair begin in a slow tempo, playing opposing figures but with Shipp staying within the realm of slow, single notes and chords. Taken separately from what the tenor saxist is playing, Shipp’s music could easily stand alone as a separate composition. In a sense, this reminded me of the Stan Getz album Focus in which Getz improvised over a series of through-composed, jazz-influenced structures written by Eddie Sauter, except that in this case the structure is atonal, leaving more open for the saxist to work around. At the four-minute mark, both are playing sharp, staccato figures against one another, only to fall back when Shipp suddenly starts playing tone cluster chords on the piano, after which he moves into fast single-note lines. Shipp then explores the music solo for a while after the six-minute mark.

To a certain extent, it’s somewhat pointless to try to describe too much of what is going on because the listening experience far exceeds anything I could say with words. It’s clear that Perelman and Shipp have created their own system of musical discourse which is almost a language, or at least a dialect, unto itself, and any attempt to describe what is going on would entail a technical description of the music that I’m sure is over the heads of most of my readers. As a summary of what goes on in this long piece, I can only say that the duo explores not only tonal relationships that only exist elsewhere in the most avant-garde music of certain modern classical composers but is only occasionally found in the work of avant-garde jazz musicians. Perhaps we shouldn’t even call this music “avant-garde,” for what does that really mean? In their time and place, Earl Hines, Bix Beiderbecke, Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, George Russell and Paul Bley were all avant-garde. What I can say, which might make sense to most of my readers, is that Perelman’s improvisations, though sometimes out on a limb from which he climbs back gingerly, are for the most part less contrived than those of John Coltrane when he just played those little circular chromatic figures out of Nicholas Slonimsky’s exercise book. Perelman has found what Coltrane was seeking, a way of playing “all the notes” without trying to play them all at once. There are moments here where he plays the blues and others where he plays in a surprisingly ballad-like fashion with a warm tone, and somehow makes them all fit together.

The fact that this duo seems to have found a musical sympathy so great that they are almost like musical twins, a yin-yang combination similar to Bix and Tram, Bird and Diz, or Zoot Sims with Al Cohn, speaks volumes for their being able to penetrate each others’ minds. They do not so much mirror as complement each other. Sometimes, it is Perelman who finishes an idea or statement that Shipp throws out at him, but most of the time it seems that Shipp simply seems to know instinctively how to best “feed” Perelman so as to get his very best playing.

In fact, one of the surprises of this set, as in any piece this duo plays together, is the fact that they occasionally find islands of tonality in their music. They are small islands, perhaps only little atolls, but they are there and act as momentary resting places for both the listeners and the performers.

In the four-minute encore, it is Shipp who opens things with single-note piano lines, which Perelman does his best to complement. It’s essentially an abbreviated version of what we’ve just heard, albeit with several differences in time and spacing of notes.

This disc appears to have been issued in a limited edition of 300. My copy, very generously sent to me for review by Perelman himself, is numbered 77. So there are at least 223 more hard copies out there to be purchased. Will you be one of the lucky ones? I hope so.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz


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