Ivo Perelman – Brass and Ivory Tales (Fundacja Sluchcaj, 2021) *****

By Paul Acquaro

The small white box sits on my desk. Perfectly square, about an inch and a half high, featuring a light grayscale photo overlayed with white lettering. Inside, a slim booklet with saxophonist Ivo Perelman’s image. Then, nine cardboard sleeves, each with a black and white image of a different pianist … first, David Burrell, then Marylyn Crispell, followed by Araun Ortiz, Aaron Parks, Sylvia Courvoisier, Agusti Fernandez, Craig Taborn, Angelica Sanchez, and finally Vijay Iyer. As you can surmise, within each envelope is a CD documenting a fruitful encounter between the saxophonist and musician whose image is on the sleeve. Just a look at the list of musical partners and you can also safely surmise that the contents of the box are likely to combust. 

The more proper metaphor, however, is something regarding a book of stories rather than a book of matches. From the “tales” of the title, each one, a new collaboration, is broken into chapters – the track titles are chapter one, two, three, and so on. However, mere minutes into the over 1/2 hour ‘Chapter 1’ from Tale One, the first of two tracks with Dave Burrell, and the explosive imagery is just as appropriate. Burrell, 81, is an ever a thoughtful and melodic player, and the interaction with Perelman is both delicately balanced and devastatingly precise. The energy already streaming from Perelman’s instrument is heated, building in intensity as each minute goes by. They settle a bit later in the track, Burrell offering sparse, dissonant lines and Perelman playing long, yearning tones. The second track continues their adventure, the piano swings occasionally and the sax glides above and below the steady line. 

Tale Two, with Marilyn Crispell begins differently. Ruminative and gentle, the duo plays what sounds like a composed song, wistful and pretty, however unexpected tones and intervallic leaps belie the truly improvised nature. Then ‘Chapter Two’ flips the script. The romanticism turns to pointillism as Crispell’s playing is quick, syncopated, and unpredictable. Perelman spars gamely, he is a blaze of notes and twisting musical logic. On this disc, ‘Chapter 5’ is standout. The two are again in a fierce match of agility, Crispell punctuating her ideas with percussive chords and Perelman jumping into altissimo range on a whim.

Tale Three finds Perelman working out some ideas with Cuban-born, NYC based Auran Ortiz. ‘Chapter One’ finds Ortiz providing spare, percussive chords for Perelman to climb over and dance around. The saxophonist smears high pitched tones between the spaces in the pianist’s accompaniment. On many of the chapters in this collaboration, Ortiz employs a minimalist approach, which is quite interesting to hear in contrast to the denser duos on Tale Two. However, a rumble from the low end coupled with a twinkling cluster of high notes also gives Perelman a much different set of tones and textures to explore.

Brass and Ivory Tales is a generous and rich set of music. The recordings capture the saxophonist’s inimitable style, as well as the spirit of pure improvisation. As the booklet with text from writer and de-facto Perelman scholar Neil Tesser indicates, each recording started with a blank slate, no discussion of ideas precede the push of the record button.

This collection took the prolific musician seven years to complete, with the final three recordings made during the summer of 2021. Most collaborations here are first encounters and it is fascinating to hear how Perelman adapts to each different musical partner. The one missing collaborator in this collection is long-time musical partner Matthew Shipp, but there are plenty of other releases available to enjoy their telepathic work.

All nine CDs in this set are worthy of a close listen. They are accessible, but take time and patience. The effort though is not without ample reward. Tale Five, for example, is a set of eleven shorter stories, told with Swiss-born, NYC based pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, that are fulfilling and dramatic. The piano playing is rich and harmonically complex, to which Perelman response is rich and melodically.  Tale Six with Craig Taborn begins spiritedly, the pianist providing an expansive array of tones to navigate. Tale Four with Aaron Parks begins on a more subdued note. Known in more modern jazz circles, Parks offers Perelman a calm, expressive palette to work with. Tale Six is with Spanish avant-garde pianist Agusti Fernandez. Their collaboration also begins gently but soon splinters in many directions, sometimes simultaneously. By ‘Chapter Three’, the two are dancing on hot coals. Tale Eight is with pianist Angelica Sanchez and begins with the cheeriest of interactions so far as Sanchez’s lithe playing rounds off some of the sourer timbers in Perelman’s tone. ‘Chapter Three’ is intense, the piano plays tight a tight cluster of tones while Perelman reacts with similarly tightly clustered notes. The tension breaks soon enough, but not without leaving a lasting impression. Finally, Tale Nine is with Vijay Iyer. The two waste no time getting into a sprightly exchange, Iyer seems to envelope the entire keyboard with his ideas and Perelman masterfully matches the exuberance. The five tracks featuring the two of them is a fitting ending to this tremendous set of music.

Brass and Ivory Tales is a book of matches, both literally and figuratively. Combustible sticks on one hand, compatible musical partner on another. The music within is light and lithe, dark and dense, covering the keys, the octaves, and all the rest. 

The bandcamp site offers samples from all the CDs, here is a starter for you:

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