Ivo Perelman is a commitment. You must be willing to put yourself through hell and alienate your neighbors in order to arrive at his brutal version of beauty. Most free jazz contains enough external reference points or internal recurrences to give your imagination somewhere to cling. Perelman’s music offers no shelter.
The opening title track begins with Perelman chirping on kazoo for two minutes while Joe Morris’ bass and Gerald Cleaver’s drums quietly, inexorably thud and rumble. It could be the soundtrack to a cartoon nightmare. Perelman’s switch to tenor saxophone is briefly reassuring, but fragments of melody soon become shrieks in the tenor’s falsetto register. Then the shrieks become blasting deep expletives, wild trills, fusillades of splintered runs, dizzying, tumbling descents, and maniacal effusions. The energy is relentless, except when it mysteriously abates.
It requires enormous proficiency, not to mention strength and stamina, to thus manipulate a saxophone. For the listener, to be subjected to Perelman’s onslaught is to experience shock and awe. The rewards come in flashes, in glimpses. Perelman flings notes the way Jackson Pollock splashed and spattered paint. Sometimes, from the chaos, previously unimagined forms coalesce. Sometimes, new doors of perception blow open.
If you are new to Perelman, begin with the third track, “Love,” instead of “Family Ties.” “Love” is a vast, ruminative, relatively subdued 25-minute discourse. Only a special improviser, able to sustain extraordinary passion and curiosity for almost half an hour, could reveal so many melodic and harmonic dimensions of love’s lyricism, from the tender to the violent.
Morris and Cleaver rarely solo, but they are ubiquitous looming background presences who operate effectively within the most fluid conceptions of time. Their continuous, reliable, engaging content provides a rational baseline for this music. They are ego; Perelman is id.