Signal to Noise review by Jason Bivins

Ivo Perelman / Brian Wilson – Mind Games (Leo Records)
Ivo Perelman / Gerry Hemingway – The Apple in the Dark (Leo Records)
Ivo Perelman / Daniel Levin / Torbjörn Zetterberg – Soulstorm (CF 184)
One of the great things about Ivo Perelman’s recent increase in activity is hearing him with all these hot drummers! Like many tenorists – hell, like many duo partners – he’s always been particularly energized by rhythmic urgency, whether that of his native Brazil on Ivo or that of Rashied Ali, for example. On his recent ace trio release Mind Games, his communication with percussionist Brian Wilson was almost telepathic. So it was a real treat to hear just the pair of them on Stream of Life. The brief, skittering, playful title track opens things up, and it gives you a sense of how emotionally wide-ranging this duo is – not just the heavy intensity you often get in free improv (though there’s plenty of that there) but also a masterful swing (“Clarice,” where Ivo’s tone is just so luxurious, just listen to him hold that note at the end!). They sound so patient and scalar on “Agua Viva” and on “Murmirios,” and at times it’s like listening to an Ayler march played by Ben Webster. Wilson is fond of brushes and subtly shifting patterns, almost Blackwell-like at times, but then he’s likely to let loose a sudden swell or cymbal aside or breakdown. He reveals himself cautiously, a spare player who speaks volumes, as on the patient click and clang of tuned percussion at the end of “Juntos Para Sempre,” which flirts mischievously with samba. There’s a beauty of a Perelman solo on “A Bola e o Menino,” where he explores long passages of circular breathing, slowly modulating phrases from the inside out, before retreating into hushed, almost cooing lyric lines. But it’s the sense of fun and discovery these two share that lingers longest in the memory, nowhere more so than on the playful folk dance “After the Third Wall.”

The duo with Hemingway is altogether different, not just because of Hemingway’s distinctive (more emphatic) rhythmic language but because several tracks feature Perelman’s piano playing. It’s overall still quite a restrained recording, at least by the standard of those who expect Perelman to breathe fire all the time. But even so, there’s an emotional urgency to his saxophone lines when set against the brisk patter of Hemingway’s brushes on the opener and thereafter. There’s great chemistry between the two on the conversational “Indulgences,” the patterns of “Sinful” which rise ever upward, and the semi-funked up closer “Lisboa.” But the treat is to hear Perelman’s reflective, at times spidery piano playing on several cuts, notably “A Maca No Escuro” – it sounds almost like an abstract Herbie Nichols tune. On “Vicious Circle,” they flirt with rhythmic shapes that – deep in the grain of Perelman’s piano phrasing – could almost be lifted from some traditional materials. And after the gorgeous and extremely spacious Hemingway solo on “The Path,” Perelman follows with pianism that buzzes with Borah Bergmann-like intensity. These terrific performances hint and gesture to familiar sources, but they leave your imagination to do its thing.

Finally, Soulstorm is a marvelous two-disc document of a meeting between Perelman, cellist Daniel Levin, and bassist Torbjorn Zetterberg. Pedro Costa’s notes reveal that, on their first meeting just before the recordings, there was a slightly tentative air to the music. Well, that’s absolutely nowhere to be heard on these extremely empathetic, emotionally rich improvisations. Perelman sounds so very searching on “Plaza Maua,” which is a dilly of a start to this two-hour ride. I certainly enjoy hearing his creativity without a percussionist here, and there are enough ideas – especially from the fabulous Levin, with whom he is currently doing some followup recordings – that the music moves forward with plenty of urgency. The players merge beautifully, not just in terms of line or even tone but also phrasin g and articulation of notes. The chemistry is superlative. Zetterberg is in some ways the ace in the hole here. He’s got this growl in the lower register, and his playing positively throbs in several wild duo features with Levin as well as in the counterpoint that surges everywhere. They can sing and swing heavily, though, as on “Dry Point of Horses,” where Perelman’s intervallic, lyrical playing is fantastic. And there are several points throughout these sets where, in the midst of boiling heat, he responds to a fragment or idea by taking an abrupt (but so fitting) left turn, either cooing like soft bird or getting all Johnny Hodges. Freaks for arco and melismatic playing will drool at “A Manifesto of the City,” and those who dig it languorous and reflective will love “Day by Day” and “In Search of Dignity.” But regardless of where the music is headed, even in moments of peak intensity (especially “The Body”), there is space; even at its outest, the music is lyrical. Top notch.

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