Yet Another Perelman-Shipp Album

PERELMAN-SHIPP: Procedural Language (12 untitled tracks) / Ivo Perelman, t-sax; Matthew Shipp, pno / SMP Records 2020, special edition box w/Blu-Ray disc, Live in Sao Paolo at SESC (July 11, 2019), limited edition of 360 copies, available HERE for €35 or US $41.61

Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp, two exploratory musicians apparently joined at the hip, here release yet another album of improvised music by the two of them. I’ll be honest, I’ve lost count of how many CDs this is, in part because some of their prior releases were multi-disc sets and in part because I don’t own all of them, but I can assure you that no other duo in the history of jazz has released as many albums as they have.

This one, recorded in January 2019, was apparently looking for a home but couldn’t find it in our new, overblown-pandemic world where the medical profession is malevolently intent on shutting down countries worldwide in the hopes of creating a complete collapse of world economies. Perhaps this is the reason for this rather expensive, limited-edition set which includes an item that most people can’t play, a Blu-Ray disc, for the rather exorbitant price listed above. Certainly, both Perelman and Shipp have more than 300 hardcore fans in the world (you have to subtract the numbered copies sent to reviewers like myself—mine is #56), thus between the restrictive release plus the cost, if you want it you’d better order it now.

And it is surely on of their finest recordings, make no mistake about that. As I’ve said in my earlier reviews of Perelman-Shipp recordings, the pianist has a tendency to help “ground” the saxist in terms of at least tending towards tonality if not quite arriving there all the time, in addition to bringing out Perelman’s more lyrical side. This is very much to the fore in the first track, where the saxist displays some of his loveliest playing, albeit interspersed with edgy moments just to let you know that he’s not Ben Webster. Shipp opens each phrase with a couple of chords but largely confines himself to melodic, albeit bitonal, single-note lines at a slow tempo, and the result is truly hypnotic.

In the second track, Shipp opens with a sort of atonal bop lick, using staccato descending chords. Perelman plays against these but yet again leans towards lyricism. What’s interesting about both of these first two tracks is that the saxist does very little “outside” playing, which had been his trademark for many years, but this actually makes this CD more appealing to those who don’t care for too much high-range squealing. The third track begins like bop turned on its head, melodically, rhythmically and harmonically, yet it, too, evolves towards lyricism. Shipp does a masterful job of relating the (a)tonality between the middle and high ranges of the piano, towards which Perelman responds with some excitable and occasionally outside figures.

Interestingly, the fourth track almost coalesces into a recognizable melody, unusual for free jazz. Once again Shipp is locked into a lyrical mode, this time with Perelman playing nice double-time figures above him. At about the 3:50 mark, they both use a slow, upward stepwise progression, which again fits into the concept beautifully. I tell you, you can’t beat the old tunes!

The duo continues to vary the pace from track to track, but the essential outlines of the first eight remain the same, music that vacillates between tonal, bitonal and atonal but still, in the listener’s mind, tends to “gel” into recognizable shapes. Yet if this set is primarily less experimental than some of their earlier excursions together, it is, to me, more musically satisfying. The lack of extreme risk-taking does not by any means preclude creativity, which is abundantly evident here. You might refer to this CD as Perelman and Shipp “in a mellow tone,” and that’s not bad at all, and this despite the few excitable moments as in the fifth track where Perelman suddenly takes off on a flight of his own, leaving Shipp to pilot the starship while he explores the tonal galaxy. The sixth track almost reverts to the “old” Perelman-Shipp recordings in that the playing of both pianist and saxist is entirely atonal, tossing shards of music out there and pushing each other to harmonic extremes, but this is an unusual moment in this otherwise relaxed set. The seventh tracks opens with Perelman descending from a high-range squeal, yet despite the edginess of his improvisation Shipp once again serves to calm the roiled waters and pull the saxist into more cogent and coherent improvisation.

The mood shifts in the ninth and tenth tracks, which could be called restrained maelstroms of sound. Here the duo again comes close to their earlier outings together, and this mood continues into the remaining tracks of the CD, with both artists becoming more abstract while still retaining some semblance of tonality. It’s a fascinating balancing act, and there are still some moments, as in the concluding section of track 12, where they again tend towards a lyrical approach.

Although I could not play the Blu-Ray disc, Perelman was kind enough to send me a link to a private video which duplicates the content of that disc. Although it is nice to see them play, I can’t really say that the video adds anything to our conception of them. Shipp is more effusive than Perelman, who basically stands in a static position while he plays, but in music of this complexity and cerebral appeal an audio record is good enough, at least for me. But I was still fascinated by it because the music here is different from that on the CD and thus adds to the quality of this release.

Perelman & Shipp, from the video

Here they play from the very beginning in a more excitable manner, in addition to being more outside jazz. This consists of one long piece lasting about an hour. There’s a marvelous moment at the 14:20 mark where Shipp plays an exciting double-time flurry of notes and Perelman follows him down that rabbit-hole with perfect aplomb. For the most part, Shipp’s playing on the video is more percussive and less lyrical than on the CD, which leads Perelman into some more rhythmic playing as well. At 22:28, Shipp embarks on a rare solo in this otherwise duo performance, and it is an excellent one. And somehow, some way, they manage to make this long piece sound coherent and not rambling. Like a modern classical piece, it has different sections that contrast each other yet somehow link together to form a unified whole—at least, until around the 50-minute mark when Shipp begins making some strange sounds with the inside strings of his piano while Perelman contributes some altissimo squeals. At that point, we know we’re not in Kansas any more.

Well, what more can I say? The music is well worth acquiring. Save up your pennies in a piggy bank…or maybe use a little of your Stimulus Check to buy it. It’s certainly Stimulating!

—© 2021 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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