May 28, 2024

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CD review: Ivo Perelman – Molten Gold – 2023: Video, CD cover

Four absolute masters in their respective instrumental fields! Ivo Perelman on tenor saxophone, the great trombonist and jazz legend Ray Anderson, the well-known Joe Morris this time with double bass in his hands, and the long-time companion of Henry Threadgill’s musical journeys, drummer Reggie Nicholson!
The quartet’s latest studio recording was made in mid-November last year at Brooklyn’s excellent ParkWest Studio recording studio by the invaluable Jim Clouse.

Although I have reviewed a large number of Ivo Perelman’s CDs on this blog, I’m well aware that his music only has a niche appeal in the jazz community. Free jazz of this sort is a hard sell; even if the end results are fascinating and musically interesting, outside playing which does not follow the normal pattern of chord changes and has a loose structure simply does not appeal to the average jazz fan.

But of course this is a pattern that has been true since the emergence of the first somewhat free jazz group in history, the Ornette Coleman Quartet of the late 1950s. One of their Atlantic albums was titled The Change of the Century, and a change it was, but as I pointed out in my book From Baroque to Bop and Beyond, once modern jazz finally came close to modern classical music, no one was really very happy except for those who understood what it was all about. It’s one thing to go well out of the tonal center occasionally, and quite another to live outside of a tonal center. More importantly, even the best-trained ear must perceive some sort of musical direction in completely free improvisation or it doesn’t make sense to us, either.

Thus I have occasionally passed on some of Perelman’s CDs for review. And all things considered, he seems to live in the recording studio. He has well over 100 albums out, more than any other figure in jazz history, period, and the number keeps on growing.

This latest incarnation, however, caught my ear because it seemed to jell in a good way. Possibly the presence of trombonist Ray Anderson had something to do with this; there’s a certain synergy between Perelman and Anderson going on here that I find particularly intriguing. Indeed, the trombonist’s bluesy blare which opens Warming Up is almost a battle cry, and although Perelman enters with a sad, almost neurotic response on tenor sax, the music more or less holds together, thanks in large part to the incredible work of bassist Joe Morris. How on earth Morris manages to find the right notes (and, more importantly, rhythms) to fit into the evolving musical melee created by Anderson and Perelman, I don’t know, but I often felt the same way about bassist Charlie Haden in the old Coleman quartet. The music in Warming Up becomes quite complex and, at times, violent, but through it all Morris remains “centered” and manages to provide the kind of “grounding” that Shipp usually provides in his work with the saxist. I don’t wish to make light of the others’ contributions—Perelman, for instance, pays an extraordinary chorus beginning at about 4:38 on this track that is one of his finest creations—only to point out that Morris is the glue that holds the sometimes chaotic effusions of the two horn players together. The result is a performance that has an ebb and flow that seems exactly right despite a few moments where even I could not quite ascertain why Anderson and/or Perelman played the way they did here.

For me, personally, the most frustrating thing about this track is that only once, in the section beginning around the 7:30 mark, did Perelman take a lyrical idea and develop it as he usually does his more outré ideas. When bass and drums stop playing, around 8:52, the two horns then create a polyphonic interchange that becomes ever faster and more complex. This is one of the finest examples of free jazz I’ve ever heard, and when Nicholson returns at 10:01 he is right on top of things, playing in double time to match what the others are doing…but then Perelman starts squealing out what were, to me, incomprehensible overtone figures that didn’t fit in and didn’t go anywhere until he brought the music down in range.

But then there is Morris’ solo, a real gem. Not a single note is superfluous or incomprehensible; this is a spontaneously created free musical structure that contains so much substance that it bears repeated listening. Drummer Reggie Nicholson then follows with a nice drum solo, but being a percussion instrument he’s not as expressive as Morris.

The second piece, Liquid, opens up at a slower tempo with almost minimal playing by Anderson using a plunger mute while Morris creates a superb, complex web behind him. At one point he begins playing a repeated rhythmic lick which proves to be the dominant rhythm in which Perelman enters. Here, the saxist is more controlled and coherent than in Warming Up though no less creative; indeed, this is one of the best solos I’ve heard him play despite his later excursion into the “squeal” register. Anderson follows with a very rapid, playful solo of his own, then the two horns begin an almost incredible fast-paced interplay in which they manage to complement each other without either of them ever really touching tonality (although Perelman comes close a couple of times). This is followed by a sort of blues moan theme by the saxist while the others sort of fill in around him. Morris, surprisingly, switches to playing bowed bass, and his work in this section is absolutely incredible.

What ensues is mostly rhythmic rather than harmonic improvisation, but it’s on a very high level and utterly fascinating despite its atonal bias. All four musicians participate in this section, though Perelman clearly takes the lead and Nicholson’s drums only add a few light touches here and there, mostly on the snare or cymbal. Although I’ve said less about Nicholson’s work here than the others, his association with musical genius Henry Threadgill clearly helps him negotiate his way through this complex web of music. Towards the end, Morris sets up an almost Middle Eastern sort of rhythm on a single note (Gb) which then inspires the other three to fall in line with some exquisitely quiet, sparse music. All in all, I enjoyed this piece better than the opener.

Aqua Regia opens with soft, slow, low-range bowed bass by Morris, followed by Perelman and Anderson interacting in an interesting way while Nicholson fills in behind them with little snare drum flutters. This piece, too, seems to evolve more coherently and less chaotically than Warming Up, creating an interesting mood even when the actual notes being played are challenging. At around the three-minute mark, Perelman and Anderson speed up the pace and begin playing more fragmented, pointillistic figures which eventually become quite angry, but Perelman tries to defuse the trombonist by inserting a few lyrical bits into the mix. But Morris picks up on Anderson’s aggression and accentuates it with menacing bowed figures in the middle of the bass’s range. This is where musical chaos sets in. Some people may like this sort of thing, but I don’t respond well to it. The notes played are not particularly interesting or musically structured, and to me it just signifies macho-oriented anger. It’s a shame, too, because the opening of this track was so promising, and after this chaotic section, at about 7:20, things calm down again and the music becomes quite lovely and, for me, fascinating. Indeed, as it progresses it actually becomes somewhat playful. (Interestingly, another online review of this CD, written by a man, liked these more chaotic, squealy sections more than the lyrical passages. To each their own, I suppose.) Morris’ bass solo, though repeating the same lick over and over, nonetheless represents an island of calm amidst the chaos. This serves as an underpinning when Anderson returns on trombone, then eventually Perelman.

Gravity again opens with Morris on bass, here playing fast bowed tremolos on the edge of his strings while Nicholson fills in with ominous low rumbles behind him, setting a wonderful mood. Perelman does not disturb this mood; even when he goes into his upper range, he does so quietly (would that he did this more often!), creating a tension that would not exist were he playing more loudly. Anderson does his best to emulate him on trombone. For the most part, this entire long opening section is utterly fascinating as well as structured in its own quirky way. Then the chaos begins anew, eventually calming down around the 10:30 mark, when it again becomes more coherent and thus more attractive.

There’s an old expression, “Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast.” In those moments when I’m not particularly fond of Perelman’s playing, he sounds like a savage beast, but this is exactly what many others respond to most favorably. Let’s just say that I agree to disagree. There are several moments in these performances that said nothing to me, but for much of the time I was captivated by what they were able to accomplish considering that they started out improvising on nothing.

1. Warming Up 20:00
2. Liquid 20:08
Total Time: 40:12

1. Aqua Regia 28:33
2. Gravity 20:48
Total Time: 49:26
Ivo Perelman – tenor saxopone
Ray Anderson – trombone
Joe Morris – double bass
Reggie Nicholson – drums

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