Perelman & Shipp—Again!


AwardAMALGAM / PERELMAN-SHIPP: Amalgam, Parts 1-12 / Ivo Perelman, t-sax; Matthew Shipp, pno / Mahakala Music MAHA003, available at Bandcamp

From the Bandcamp page:

They just can’t stop, these two.

Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp have threatened, on more than one occasion, to cease and desist. Each time they enter the studio together, just the two of them, they have considered whether it will be the last time for this most engrossing, uncannily linked, long-lived duo: this binary star that, once again, renews itself on Amalgam.

For those of you new to the Perelman-Shipp Duo, keep in mind that the music you hear has arrived, literally, from nowhere. Especially in the last decade or so, they have embarked on voyages of total spontaneity in which nothing is predetermined. They work without written music, without themes, without discussion of tempo or texture, or . . . anything, really. These improvisations create their own form as they unfurl; each dictates its own length and mood, its color and complexity. If you hear Perelman and Shipp arrive together at a climax, or meet at some harmonic plateau in their separate flights, the credit goes to a communication that brooks telepathy. At this point in their shared history, they not only complete each other’s sentences. They also start them.

If this seems too remarkable to be true, rest assured that it is both that remarkable, and completely true.

And yet, before creating the pieces on this album, says Perelman, “We had to ask ourselves, like we always do: ‘Was it time to stop doing this? Did we dry up?’ Because we’re always contemplating the end, and because we have a pact – that if and when we stop producing music that is fresh, we’ll stop recording as a duo. This will never be only some indulgence for us.”

Normally, I don’t quote this much from album promo material, but in this case I think it’s appropriate to do so, because it says so much about their musical relationship, which now extends far beyond what Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines did between 1928 and 1950—a longer period of time but a more sporadic relationship—as well as what Al Cohn and Zoot Sims did for more than a decade, or what Miles Davis and John Coltrane did for approximately six years. Their body of work as a duo just keeps growing, and most of it is simply incredible.

One more bit from the promo material:

On previous albums, these two displayed a breadth of improvisation that proved marvelous, expansive and explosive. But here, they have turned that intrepidity inward; instead of exploring outer space, they send their music hurtling through the space between molecules. This is fusion, not fission. On Amalgam, Perelman and Shipp do not split the hydrogen atom; rather, they dive down into it. They have stripped away discursive ornamentation, no matter how delightful it has proved in the past. The material is compressed; redundancies recede.

“We play less now and say more,” Perelman agrees. “We are having a new appreciation for the space between notes and between chords. So now each note carries more weight in the overall structure; each note breathes because of the space around it.”

In Part 1, at least, there is also somewhat more of a jazz beat, something that much of their music ignores as much as key. I’d also say that, on this track at least, Perelman’s playing is even more lyrical than usual, though I feel that Perelman’s tone has sounded fuller and richer on some other releases. The theme snippets used by him here almost make up a complete melody, something else that’s different from many past outings with Shipp, and the pianist feeds him a few more chords than usual, evidently enjoying the resultant stream of ideas.

In Part 2, it is Shipp who starts things off, and at first it sounds as if they are playing another ballad, but as soon as Perelman enters the tempo increases dramatically. The saxist is more his usual self here, pushing the envelope both melodically and harmonically, and Shipp is quick to pick up on his rhythmic idiosyncrasies, playing mostly staccato chords behind him for some time. The saxist adds several squeals and buzzes towards the end of the piece before Shipp suddenly starts playing somewhat more conventional piano.

By Part 3, the duo is well and fully engaged in duo-creation, building this track around what can only be termed partial ideas which are later fleshed out by improvisation. Part 4 is built around shifting rhythms, almost as if they were jazz versions of Stravinsky; all semblance of the order one heard in track one is gone. There are stops and starts in this one, too; I can only assume they were really experimenting in their minds before playing the next section or phrase of this piece.

This hesitancy continues in Part 6, but when I say “hesitancy” it is not a negative connotation. They pause and reflect before moving on not because they are entirely unsure of their path but because, as Perelman mentioned in the notes, they now have a “new appreciation for the space between notes and between chords.” In brief, their music is less of a headlong rush into the maelstrom than it is now a matter of reflection and greater thought. Even in a piece such as Part 7, where the tempo again increases and the pauses are not as evident, you can hear how they are thinking about every single note they play. It all has to have meaning; it all has to fit like interlocking pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

By Part 8, we have almost returned to the lyricism of Part 1—almost, but not quite, since the melody line is more fragmented and leads much quicker into being broken up into smaller pieces, first by Shipp and then by Perelman, who also plays many more high-register overblown passages. Indeed, upper harmonic extensions seem to be at the heart of this particular piece. In Part 9, they are both out on a limb, playing rapid, breathless, short phrases and motifs in quick succession, yet always changing pitch and rhythm as they go along. I could give equally detailed descriptions of the final three pieces on this album, but to what purpose? The thrill is in the listening, not in the verbal descriptions of listening.

In a jazz world where, increasingly, the music has become more like pop music than it even was during the Swing Era or, worse yet, used as a “calming influence” of soft, banal playing and singing supposedly “from the heart,” it is utterly refreshing to hear music that is REALLY from the heart as well as from the mind.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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