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Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Art of Perelman-Shipp (Leo Records, 2017) – Part One

By Tom Burris

Several months ago I read an interview with Matthew Shipp, during which he stated his intention to cease recording. The reasoning behind his decision was primarily that live performance is where improvisation lives (true enough) and that recording in the studio no longer felt like a necessity – so he planned to simply stop doing studio sessions. He has made this kind of claim before; so I’m not sure how long the sabbatical will last – but one thing we do know is this: This set of seven recordings with longtime sparring partner, the great Brazilian saxophonist Ivo Perelman, may be the last studio discs to appear with Shipp’s name on them for quite a while.

It seems fitting that this collection of recordings is scheduled to be his last, as it is a monumental exploration of Perelman and Shipp as a duo – and the sounds that transpire when other musicians join their extremely unique and personal dialogues. So why not a box set? Box sets tend to signify either something epochal or stand as a summary of artistic achievement after a particular era of events has passed. These individual sets of improvisations are simply new dialogues in new settings taking place in the here and the now. They stand as individual documents. Having said that, fans of either man and/or the duo will want them all regardless of packaging.

Thematically, the discs and their titles are centered around an astronomical phenomenon known as the Saturn Return, which both men feel is an active force in their lives and in their musical relationship to one another.

Volume 1: Titan (Parts 1-6)   ****1/2


Ivo Perelman – tenor saxophone
Matthew Shipp – piano
William Parker - bass

It’s interesting that Volume 1 begins with Shipp’s old bandmate from David S. Ware’s quartet, bassist William Parker – because (I’m jumping ahead here) most of these groups center around Perelman & Shipp as a duo. In this trio, Shipp often splits alliances between Perelman & Parker. On Part 2, for example, Shipp & Parker hang stars in the sky while Perelman shoots at them from the moon. (Hey, I saw it.) Soon after, the core duo of Perelman-Shipp locks down, leaving Parker to play against them as a solidified unit.

When all three players take equal part in the exploration it’s especially thrilling. On Part 4, they successfully attempt to compose a Brecht-by-way-of-Lester-Young ballad on the fly. Naturally, it ends as something else entirely – but as something unique and complete as a whole. Part 5 also begins with all three musicians functioning as a creative trio, playing in a style I’d call more “conventionally free” as opposed to the more painterly pieces that precede it. Shipp & Parker get an extended spot together, before Perelman joins in again and switches the dynamic back to Perelman-Shipp with solid support from Parker.

Part 6 is all over the map. It opens with Perelman playing mournful vibrato notes almost to the point of parody, with Parker’s arco bowing adding to the pathos. Shipp’s support, naturally, is melodic and sedate. By the five-minute mark, the trio has joined together as one playing a free jazz rembetika of immediate origin. Shortly after this, Parker is leading with a bop-era bass line, sparking Shipp to respond with an angular avant riff, over which Perelman invokes the spirit of '70s Arista-era Braxton. There are also hints of the blues, marches (Braxton again), and Perelman sounding positively soulful during some amazing runs. I’m not sure how it holds together as a single piece, but it’s a wild ride.

Volume 2: Tarvos (Parts 1-7)   ****

Ivo Perelman – tenor saxophone
Matthew Shipp – piano
Bobby Kapp – drums

Bobby Kapp’s lightness of touch is a perfect complement to the approach of the Perelman-Shipp duo. Even when things get dark or heavy, somehow Kapp remains light – and that doesn’t mean soft. It’s more of an air of optimism – an openness and natural positivity. It is his general demeanor that allows for magic moments to happen – like the one in Part 3 where the trio comes together in a way that sounds entirely composed. And FYI – Kapp and Perelman never played together before this date!

Typically, the dynamic throughout most of this session is Perelman-Shipp allowing itself to be driven by Kapp. Part 6 is the standout piece, opening with gorgeous balladry from Shipp which picks up in intensity after Perelman and Kapp add their contributions. A time-signature is established for a short while, but quickly dissipates as Perelman’s melodic sense becomes one with Shipp’s arpeggios and chord voicings. Kapp holds his own as Perelman and Shipp kick the music up into a Trane/Tyner intensity. Beautiful.

Volume 3: Pandora (Parts 1-6)   ****

Ivo Perelman – tenor saxophone
Matthew Shipp – piano
William Parker – bass
Whit Dickey – drums

Now we have Ware’s entire rhythm section w/ Perelman in the sax chair. This is the one I was most curious about, so I started with this one. It did not disappoint. It gets intense with three guys kicking up the saxophonist's ass – and Perelman’s not tough in the same way that Ware was, so how is this gonna pan out? Shipp again does double duty, playing as part of the Ware unit & moving in and out of the Perelman-Shipp model. As Ware-Perelman, the entire rhythm section rumbles as it creates storm clouds on which Perelman rides. Part 2 opens this way, but is disrupted a couple of times as Perelman-Shipp comes out. Shipp has a lot of pressure on him to perform this delicate balancing act, but it’s the man’s job & he is not one to underperform.

Midway through the disc, Perelman has become comfortable enough to relish the energy of the band & interacts enthusiastically with the players individually. He is investigating the machinery, kicking the tires, swooping down on the musicians to get their reactions. Perelman is trying to find his way of dealing with the Ware group’s collective power. He finds it eventually – and it’s where you think the group would’ve started from anyway (but they didn’t). Dickey and Parker hold Shipp up. Shipp holds Perelman up. That’s it! It takes them half the disc to get there – but I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on all of the experimentation that happened previously either. So it’s win/win, really.

Volume 4: Hyperion (Parts 1-10)   ****

Ivo Perelman – tenor saxophone
Matthew Shipp – piano
Michael Bisio – bass

The trio begins tentatively, in a curious and patient mood. Snippets of songs peek through the cracks only to vanish quickly from view. The musicians begin to play angular runs that do not seem to fit together at all – until the ears adjust. Naturally, it gels into another beast entirely. Bisio plays busily while Shipp alternates between runs and block chords. Perelman, as always, is searching for the melody within. Bisio suits the duo as well as Parker did, but Bisio is not as aggressive.

Shipp fans, you get short but complete solos on Part 5 and Part 9. They are both bits of automatic composition that my notes say “could be 30 minutes longer.” I stand by that!

Part 6 barely contains its own energy, with restless rooting from all three players until they become one six-armed, six-legged cyber-insect digging its way through silent corners and infecting them with gigantic SOUND. Perelman is still trying to locate melodies – even at this pace – which is, of course, futile.

Part 7 finds Shipp dropping surprise chords like they’re just spilling out of his pocket – and Perelman and Bisio adapt quickly and easily like the total pros they are. In fact, Perelman delights in this shit – singing like a magnificent bird of prey. He stays in this mode on Part 8, flying around the other two continuously. By Part 10 things have run a little amok, with Perelman-Shipp moving at top speed and Bisio struggling to keep up. It’s the only track where Bisio appears to be a third wheel – and for this reason, I kinda wish they wouldn’t have closed with it.


Dom Minasi said...

Thank you. I was fortunate enough to see Evo, Matt, Mike and Walt at the Vision Festival. One of the brighter moments of the festival

IP said...

Thank you Tom for the great review and thank you Dom for the comment