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Saturday, February 4, 2023

Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp - Tryptich I - III (SMP, 2023)

By Sammy Stein

When Matt Shipp and Ivo Perelman play together nothing unusual happens – that is, nothing unusual for them. The synergy between the two performers feels as natural as breathing. After many collaborations, this pair of musicians lean into and interpret each other’s music in ways many can only aspire to. Triptych I to III (SMP label) were meant to be released as a cassette/LP/CD box with 150 drawings but plans changed so, while they recorded with imagery in mind, those images are created by the music itself.

Which poses no problem. Triptych 1 is a journey through musical ideas, the pair swapping excerpts as they feel inspired, and pairing briefly from the dichotomy of sound. And while the pair play with such individuality that the listener might hear each instrument’s line as separate, in many senses there pervades a sense of oneness as the pair bounce off and react to each other. The tracks on Triptych 1 pose a problem in that dissecting them individually is nigh on impossible because one musical idea flows into another, the tracks feeling separated only by natural pauses and subtle changes in approach. From the thunderous piano on the second track where Shipp creates wave after wave of deep-noted gutsy piano, in contrast to Shipp’s almost playful quips and nuanced overlays of melody – which often dissolve into scale ascensions of staccato travels from one interval to another, to places where there is gentleness and contemplative playing, as musical thoughts seem to develop from the spaces and weave together to form multi-layered landscapes. The third track on Triptych 1 is an example of this, Perelman weaving delicate melody before rising to gutsy utterances over Shipp’s continual accompaniment with hardly a pause. On track four, Shipp’s classical style opening is counteracted by Perelman’s free-blowing, powerful exploration, and development into fast, furious phrasing over Shipp’s thunking piano.

Stand-out moments on Triptych I are number five where both players swap and charge, lead and follow, Track six, where the playful to and fro is escalated and becomes something extraordinary in terms of interpretation and intuition and Track eight where both musicians show their gentler side, Perelman making the tenor sing across the top of Shipp’s gorgeous accompaniment.

There are moments of lyricism, and times when Perelman’s playing verges on the deranged while Shipp maintains calm, his hypertension inserting a control and hold on Perelman’s sax escapades. Yet, the deception is complete. Perelman never loses the key of the root – well, hardly once.

Triptych II consists of two longer tracks, each allowing Perelman and Shipp to explore deeper the suggestions introduced by one or the other. Side A is a quite beautiful investigative journey into firstly, the extremes to which a saxophone can be pushed and secondly, how an interpretive piano player reacts and pushes back at times to what is placed, musically before them. At times exquisite in its form, at others a musical argument as to which musician leads, the side is 17 minutes of interesting music, including one powerful section where Shipp slows things down, calms the space, and Perelman follows, creating for a while a dream-like atmosphere, Perelman creating breaks in the sax lines akin to breathing, with a couple of familiar tunes breaking in now and again. The art of silence is subtly shown here. Side B is almost straight jazz in some places, with a good dose of free exploration thrown in but a contrast to Side A in terms of harmonics and tonal development for the first section. Perelman then throws everything, and Shipp gleefully follows as the sax slips into and maintains holds altissimo phrases, dips down into lower register and, to put it simply, on this track, Perelman virtually takes wing.

Triptych III is two tracks again and the artistic creativity continues as Shipp and Perelman take ideas further, stretch concepts and create musical pictures. Who needs drawings when you have two artists creating musical landscapes in your mind?

Triptychs I, II, and III show the range of both Shipp and Perelman. There is a chemistry between the players that is palpable even to those unfamiliar with either. The danger of a musical pairing that has known so many recordings is comfort and familiarity and there is some of this because the playing of both is distinctive but Shipp and Perelman also show that familiarity with another’s playing can lead to increased constructive collaboration and trust. Perhaps this is the key to the music. From the hypnotic sections of Triptych III to the gentle and melodic phrasing of track number five on Triptych I, to the pared-back harmonies on Triptych II in places, or the complex layering of side A of Tryptic III, Shipp and Perelman produce music which never ceases to create wonder in the listener – and perhaps the musicians too.

It is enjoyable to hear Perelman out of his familiar altissimo and delving into the depths of the tenor sax – proving a range of playing styles and absolute understanding and mastery of his instrument. Side A of Tryptic III is a work of art in itself and I defy anyone to find a pair of improvising musicians so tuned into each other as these.

A triptych is defined as a work of art divided into three sections, each section can be folded shut or displayed open, or the entire work can be viewed as one. This description suits this work because, whether you hear each Triptych part singly or listen to it as a whole, it is art.