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Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Ivo Perelman and Joe Morris - Elliptic Time (Mahakala, 2022)

By Sammy Stein

Two outstanding musicians, one a reedsman, the other a guitarist, a studio. What could possibly happen? The answer is a recording of superlative improvised music.

Opening with a fifteen-minute dialogue between reed and strings, on the title track, Perelman finds a way to tease emotive emphasis out of connected motifs, Morris elegantly journeying along scales, ascending, descending, and inputting tricky nuances into Perelman’s phrase formations. On this track, at times, the force of Perelman is countered by the delicate finger-work of Morris, creating a sublime, almost ethereal argument.

The second track, ‘Invisible Mass’ is a continuation of the conversation, this time Perelman taking a more contrapuntal stance while Morris picks his way with intricate changes and rhythm patterns. The instruments create the percussive elements as much as the melody and Perelman imparts a sense of strength, powered by the sheer audacity of his choice of harmonics. Both musicians have an ear for what works and what does not, and what flies so close to the edge of disharmony yet never quite hits that uncomfortable place, it is a credit to their experience. Perelman’s tone adjusts with the flow of Morris’ strings in subtle ways, only clearly apparent on the second or third (or fourth) listen. Perelman’s ear for good connective notes is shown and at times, the choice verges on the edge of insanity, particularly when matched to the vibration of Morris’s strings. There is a lovely interlude when Morris plays so lightly it is as but a whisper, and Perelman duly reacts, sighing the sax across registers, veering from altissimo to lower register.

‘Gravitational Pull’ has a very different vibe from the outset with Perelman playing for all the world like a blues soloist. You can imagine a lone sax player on a Parisian corner. Plying his trade, he covers all the angles, from beautifully worked scale ascensions to difficult, challenging intervals and improvised sections. The guitar joins in gentle support, at times providing just the right placement to ensure the spaces left by the saxophone phrases are full of interest. The guitar then emerges from the background to lead after the four-minute mark and Perelman switches to sostenuto behind the guitar strings before that phrasing is elongated by Perelman allowing the sax to once again rise to lead in a demonstration of two musicians in creative harmony.

‘Palpable Energy’ is aptly named because it gives creative free rein to energy, presented to the listener as a series of interludes, each subtly different, yet connected by the unspoken choice of key, phrasing, and tempo. The energy of Perelman’s playing is palpable, while Morris sustains and maintains his own patterns, against which Perelman improvises, making the listener sense a connection with both musicians. The speed that Perelman instigates changes is impressive and Morris matches this on strings, crafting music and shaping it. Perelman demonstrates how he can take a breath of air, and craft, and shape it so it emerges as something else – a form, a musical landscape, a feeling. A thoughtful interlude around the seven-minute mark sees both musicians musing around a central chordal sequence, both coming to the conclusion it is necessary at a similar time, Perelman this time following the guitar.

‘Cosmic rays Music’ is short, sharp, and sweet. The polyrhythms set up by the instruments make it feel like there is a small ensemble taking to the floor, but no, still just two. Morris matches Perelman in nerve and intuitive tete-a-tete.

This recording is one of two uber-talented musicians developing lines, neither being the constant protagonist but both respecting and understanding each other’s nuanced changes and decisive phrasing. There is gentle combatant playing, yet the music returns often to a cohesion and oneness that gradually evolves and develops its own character.

This is great improvisation and whether free jazz or classical music is your preferred genre, listening to this opens alleyways to go down, investigate and follow until you come to a point where you decide whether to continue or beat a retreat to the safety of what you know. Either way, this is an experience. Pushing musical boundaries is what Morris and Perelman do best and this recording shows the beauty that can be achieved if only you have the nerve to do so.