PERELMAN-SHIPP: Nineteen. Thirteen. One. Seven Fourteen. Two. Six. Three. Four. Ten. Eleven / Ivo Perelman, t-sax; Matthew Shipp, pno / ESP Disk’ 5070
I’m sure that, at this point, some of my readers may think that I’m getting paid to review as many Ivo Perelman releases as I’ve done, but for better or worse I don’t get a cent for any of my efforts. It is strictly a labor of love and a chance for me to introduce or continue to promote artists whose work I find to be of musical value, and although I’ve had some disagreements with some of the things Perelman has played on records I still consider him a serious and sincere artist who is trying to communicate something inside of him.
Thus when the saxist sent me a Facebook message saying, of this release, that “We believe it’s our best effort so far,” I took him at his word and agreed to review this new album as soon as I could. Although it’s not planned for release on September 9 of next year (2022), Mr. Perelman wanted my immediate feedback in order to judge its intrinsic worth.
I’m not sure if there were more than 19 takes, but as you can see from the header, 11 of them are on this album, arranged in an order that pleased the performers. And judging from the first track, which appears to be the last, Perelman was right in his judgment. Every rhythmic and melodic gesture that tenor saxist and pianist feed each other in this remarkable duet is met with a musically and emotionally appropriate response from the other. And somehow or other, this entirely free jazz somehow coalesces and takes shape in a way that is absolutely perfect.
In the face of such musical perfection, it’s difficult to analyze musically simply because so much is going on. Shipp clearly plays in a steady rhythm at times, but not consistently so; he feeds Perelman a series of both tonal and atonal chords and single-note motifs, and the thing I liked most about it was that the saxist plays lyrically through most of it, leaving the percussive qualities to the pianist.
Nor is this quality restricted to the opening track. Thirteen is rhythmically faster and busier than Nineteen, with Shipp playing an almost unbroken series of complex single-note figures to which Perelman responds in kind. And once again, the saxist’s willingness to restrain some of his most outré playing pays dividends. The few times he does extend into the upper register, the results sound much more grounded in what he has played before and will play after; they don’t sound as much like angry or wounded outbursts so much as they do an extension of the lyric line that runs like a golden thread throughout the piece. By the 3:30 mark, both Shipp and Perelman have slowed things down and at times the resulting music sounds more tonal if no less spontaneous.
Yet even when Perelman plays some abstract figures, as in the opening of One (obviously the first take of the session), these figures take on a rhythmic shape that one can follow with the ear. If I may make an attempt to describe it in words, it’s as if both artists know that they are creating something new and different but at the same time have realized that being able to follow the thread of the music from first note to last, as a composition, is more important at this stage of their musical relationship than just prodding and pushing each other. I don’t know if the idea was Shipp’s or Perelman’s, but whichever one it was hit the nail squarely on the head, musically.
And I would go further. All this music is, to use a graphic analogy, both linear and curved rather than jagged and wayward. If one were to notate each piece, one would be able to see, on paper, the shape of the music. It would no longer appear to be a series of random explosions that sound interesting in the moment but do not always relate to the before and the later.
In Seven, the rhythms are more angular and the harmonies more “open” as Shipp continually uses more widely-spaced intervals, resolving the tonality in open intervals (fourths and fifths) and then only occasionally, but his keen ear for musical structure keeps the piece from becoming disorganized. And once again, everything Perelman plays fits into what Shipp is doing like a hand in a glove. Fourteen uses an almost playful rhythm, yet one that is asymmetrically spaced and uses short moments of silence between notes here and there to further extend the time. This is obviously a tricky piece for Perelman to fit into, particularly since he had no clue when Shipp would introduce these time-expanding moments, yet he plays in a consistently lyrical fashion, just letting Shipp “do his thing” while he improvises. The result is a fascinating musical cat-and-mouse game, with the pianist teasing and toying with the saxist, and I almost didn’t mind the sudden excursion into sharp, shrill high notes on the saxophone at around the 2:45 mark because they fit in and they caused Shipp to “cool it” a little, bringing the tempo and the temperature down just a bit.
Each track in this remarkable album is a highlight in itself and different from every other track. These two artists have played and recorded together so often that they do indeed almost seem to read each other’s mind, and at this stage the psychic communication is so complete that it almost sounds as if we, the listeners, are eavesdropping in on a very personal and intimate conversation. Perhaps the biggest difference, or as Perelman insists, improvement in this recording over all the others they’ve done together is that the saxist is more willing to lay back on his more explosive and aggressive moments with superior musical results. There is a more consistently calm, almost meditative quality in all the pieces in this set, regardless of tempo, that invite the listener in rather than scare him or her away. Even in the fast-paced, scalar activity one hears in Six, there is a calm underlying their musical storm. The violence and angst heard in their previous releases has been defused.
Modern classical composer Meredith Monk, whose work I value very highly, once said that after years of trying to find one great place in the world to be to find inner peace, she at last found it in the humble kitchen of her own apartment, sipping tea or coffee and just enjoying being where she was. I think that’s what Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp have found here in this album. They’ve traveled the world, figuratively and literally, in their musical travails over the past several years, and now they have discovered an inner peace just being with one another, not trying to “prove” anything or set the world on fire. This music just…Is. And it’s wonderful.
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
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