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Monday, June 12, 2023

Ivo Perelman and James Emery - The Whisperers (Mahakala, 2023)

By Sammy Stein

Ivo Perelman and James Emery need little in the way of introduction. Perelman is a well-respected improvising musician, with classical roots and a musical compulsion to seek out collaborations with fellow musicians that offer challenges and ways to express music in different ways. Emery is a guitarist who has been an integral part of the String Trio of New York, which celebrates 45 years since its conception this year. He has recorded Anthony Braxton, Wadado Leo Smith, Joe Lovano, and many others. Perelman so far has made well over 100 recordings, and still, on this album with Emery, he finds yet another aspect to his lifelong walk with his beloved tenor saxophone, as he continues to explore improvised music in many formats and with different musicians.

On this album, Perelman is at his intuitive best, his reactions honed as the guitar leads but it is down to Emery that Perelman is set challenges, as he creates masterful guitar music, its changing voice creating variety, from plucked, strummed, and flicked strings, their volume and delicacy forcing Perelman to respond at times with quicksilver reactions.

Typical of Perelman collaborations, the tracks are simply numbered one to fourteen (no track eight).

Although it was a recording based on spontaneous music making, the album feels like a mix of composition and improvised music. This is probably due to Emery’s classical grounding, which reveals itself in many places, and the fact that Perelman himself began as a classical musician and understands the minutiae of both composed and improvised music. He can, and does, discuss the close liaison between classical music and improvisation, at length given the chance, and sees freely improvised music as the classical music of the future. Listening to another collaboration and hearing the classical and improvised elements spontaneously emerging at the behest of two musicians with feet in classical music and free jazz camps, this is an understandable and logical conclusion.

The guitar and saxophone create distinctive lines, yet effortlessly flow together to create music that at once encourages the listener to follow the individual instruments, yet there is a connection and togetherness in this recording that is almost tangible.

Track One sees the guitar dictate a minimalistic styling that Perelman follows. He makes use of a succession of repeated phrases as well as rising solos, while Emery counteracts with fiery string work and the contrast between Perelman on sustain and Emery’s fast-fingered fury in one section is joyous.

On Track Two sweet, uplifting sounds emanate from Perelman and Emery as they take and relinquish the lead, the guitar proving equal to the sax in terms of traversing octaves and changing intonation.

Track Three is glorious – a musical conversation between two players at ease with their instruments and each other and on Track Four there is a joyful conversation between guitar and sax again with Perelman’s trademark altissimo extremes and his ease at flipping back to lower register making the saxophone speak in delicate tones one moment and offer fiery, forceful responses in others.

On Track Five the guitar enters with warping chords, over which Perelman adds the voice of altissimo, weaving intricate sound patterns and alternating between deep rasping low register notes and altissimo. Perelman’s explosive lines are matched proportionally by the guitar as it responds, and Emery challenges the melodic flow by introducing rhythm changes.

On Track Six, the guitar is to the fore, with Perelman meandering between registers, inserting repeated rivulets of sound and on Track Seven there are moments of pure classical style from the guitar but not from Perelman who injects fire and brimstone into the number. Track Nine is a more contemplative track until the final third when both players become increasingly forceful and powerfully drive their ideas home.

Track Ten is interesting and there are different sonic experiences, from Western-esque wah-wahs to warped strings and drumming on the guitar body while Perelman once again trips between altissimo and lower register. There are pops, paps, squeaks, and contrasting gentler episodes – it feels like everything but the kitchen sink in terms of technique is inserted here.

Track Eleven starts with a breathy tenor introduction from Perelman with an elegant response from Emery’s guitar before he alters the rhythm pattern. Perelman follows, taking the altissimo technique to another level, chasing snatches of minor arpeggios across the registers.

On Track Twelve Perelman sets up percussive rhythms using tongued technique and Emery responds with his own patterns, the body of the guitar resonating under the strings. He sets up a repeated rhythmic line, under which Perelman sets his saxophone meandering but under his control. Glorious.

Track thirteen is a gentler track with the saxophone introducing forceful melodic phrases under chords from Emery in the first third. Then it evolves and develops into a free-flowing exchange of musical ideas.

Track Fourteen is beautiful, with classical elements evident from both Emery and Perelman and a great track to encapsulate both players’ styles.

This recording is interesting and engaging. There is such dynamism between the players and the essence of a track changes with a motif, or a whimsical phrase from either player, the other intuitively changing course in response. Perelman once again proves himself a magician of both improvised music and the tenor saxophone but mostly here for his choice of guitar player to record with. 

"The Whisperers" is scheduled to be released on June 30th.