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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp - Corpo (Leo Records, 2016) ****½

As unlikely as it may sound for two established musicians, saxophonist Ivo Perelman and pianist Matthew Shipp outdid, if not reinvented themselves once again. That’s the sentiment I’m left with just three minutes into Corpo, the latest (and definitely not the last) of their many collaborations. While I listen to Perelman holding a wavering, long tone accentuated by Shipp’s light touches, I can’t help but think that this is indeed the culmination of their fruitful, long-standing partnership.
How this came to be is the result of a certain synchronicity: positive circumstances converging and focusing in the fleeting present. The first of these, as Colin explains, is grounded in Ivo Perelman’s rethinking of his technique and the introduction of a personal “intervallic system” to his playing. Modeled after a self-imposed corollary to serialism and the 12-tone scale, Perelman now consciously adapts his style to accommodate intervals of varying durations but equal importance, freeing his process of suffocating rules and approaching the saxophone almost instinctively. Of course, in a tight-knit format as the duo, this couldn’t have worked without the flexibility and understanding that Shipp demonstrates by adapting and molding himself after Perelman’s stylistic shifts. The final element to this redefinition of the Perelman-Shipp duo is to be found in the way that the musicians’ partnership evolved into a sincere camaraderie—see them posing semi-nude on the cover or donning boxing gloves in their promo shots—that enables them to provoke and react to each other impulsively, without holding back punches.

But Corpo is not built upon conflicts. Or at least, not solely. Instead, it walks the line between their now fadingly familiar earlier interactions, the often clichéd but unequivocally effective “dialogues,” and a sense of wonder that emerges when confronted with something subtly but genuinely new in a world where “innovative” often means rehashed. The two players thus counteract and follow each other, create challenges, and help dissolve them through disjointed rhythms and infinite variations while shuffling through the usual motions of spontaneous creativity. The result of this clever game pushes Perelman and Shipp away from their accustomed, habitual paradigms. Even Callas, their previous record, sounds distant in comparison. But make no mistake, despite the technical prowess, the extended gamut of sounds used by Perelman—from whispers to piercing screeches—and the many intriguing elements emerging from subverted techniques, this demolishing, yet sensitive and soulful music is fueled by lyricism. As Shipp himself notes, “in no way is this musical scholarship or gymnastics—it is poetry.”

The twelve tracks on the album, of short to moderate length and named simply “Part 1-12,” follow the duo in a single recording session in which the musicians forgo any repeated takes, choosing to materialize music and intuitions without interventions. Partially because of this approach, all the cuts indeed feel as parts of a whole and seem to flow into one another with ease. Some of the movements, like “Part 4” and “Part 5,” develop as gentle ballads, with the two players playfully entertaining wistful themes or conveying unexpected melodies (“Part 1”), while other will show them in full force, repeating kaleidoscopic, rushed circular phrases such as during “Part 3.” On the other hand, “Part 7” will see them visiting sparsely filled canvases, echoing and responding to one another in a vacuum of prolonged intervals. Finally, the scintillating “Part 11” and the intense, bordering on the chaotic “Part 12” will close this remarkable album.

“This recording is it, the ultimate coming together of everything Ivo and I have been for working on for years,” writes Shipp in his liner notes for Corpo. I find it hard to disagree.