On most of the 30-odd albums Ivo Perelman has released over the last three years, the saxophonist has articulated his free-form vision through mostly conventional jazz combos, generally involving some combination of piano (usually Matthew Shipp), drums, and bass. What sets his latest pair of recordings apart is that instead of squaring off against a rhythm section, Perelman has chosen to contrast the sound of his tenor with that of the bass clarinet, played by the classically trained German avant-gardist Rudi Mahall on Kindred Spirits, and Jason Stein of the Chicago trio Locksmith Isidore on Spiritual Prayers.
Between them, the two albums seem to be playing off a “twin sons of different mothers” dynamic, emphasizing the similarities more than the differences between the two horns. Never mind that one is tagged “tenor” and the other “bass”; overall, the two sit in approximately the same register (although the bass clarinet’s range extends a tritone lower), but their timbral qualities are markedly different, and that’s the central element here.
Mahall’s tone is generally dark and woody, and much of Kindred Spirits finds him working the gruff lower register of his horn while Perelman flutters sweetly in the altissimo range of his. But when Mahall climbs up into the attic, he easily matches the strength and color of Perelman’s horn, making the sound more complimentary than contrasting. As is typical with Perelman, the performances are spontaneous to the point of not having titles—in lieu of track names, we’re given the playing time—and yet, even after an hour and forty minutes of extemporizing, there’s no sense of repetition or dead end.
Spiritual Prayers, with Stein, is definitely the more extreme session, at least in terms of technique. When he’s playing quietly, as on the album’s opening statement, Stein’s sound offers the sort of well-mannered warmth you’d expect of a chamber musician, but by the end, he’s delivered the full range of honks, shrieks, and multiphonics, with Perelman answering in kind. If you like your free jazz unconventional, this is the one for you; another track consists of the two playing mouthpieces alone. But for all its Chicago-style envelope-pushing, what ultimately distinguishes Spiritual Prayers is the emotional connection Perelman and Stein reveal through their extreme interplay.