Suite for Helen F.
Boxholder BXH 038/039

Strength, stamina and chutzpah are the first three adjectives that come to mind when analyzing saxophonist Ivo Perelman’s performance on this two CD set.

Coming on like a contestant in one of those extreme sports competitions the Brazilian tenor man not only faces off against one bassist and drummer, but also another set at the same time. Similarly his version of a double trio doesn’t involve any slackers. Individually and together, bassists Dominic Duval and Mark Dresser and percussionists Gerry Hemingway and Jay Rosen have worked with nearly every experimental reedist of repute, including Anthony Braxton, John Butcher, Mark Whitecage, Joe McPhee, Oliver Lake and Frank Gratkowski — to name just a few. Besides Duval, Hemingway and Rosen have recorded with the saxman before.

During the course of the seven part suite here, named for pioneering abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler, Perelman produces as many dense shapes, jagged lines, circular improv, frottage and irregular brush strokes as you can see in seven examples of his paintings which illustrate the booklet. Don’t try to draw too many parallels between the Perelman works in acrylic or mixed media and his reed explosions, though. This isn’t program music, but an aural expression of Perelman’s talents.

In that way he may have attempted to create on too broad a musical canvas by expressing himself over two CDs. Like many gallery collections of a painter’s oeuvre, only some of the note paintings are truly exceptional. Others are more exhausting than exhaustive, though time is on his side. The four compositions on Disc 2 are more varied and more memorable than the three on Disc 1.

Quirkily enough, “Part 4”, the session’s stand-out track, is sketched on the broadest canvas — it’s almost 21 minutes of seething improvisation. Perelman’s initial reed thrust involves piercing slurs that meet dual bass ponticello. Soon the double bowing turns spiccato, to face the saxman’s upper partials of irregular and fluttering vibrations and split tones. With Hemingway and Rosen accelerating from shuffle rhythms to battering ram strength, Perelman moves his growls into a more comfortable mid-range, that in this context almost sounds like Classic Jazz — Classic Free Jazz that is. Except for the odd mouthpiece cheep, Perelman begins sluicing out a balladic-type melody, adding various note partials, vibrations and bent notes.

Meanwhile it’s likely Duval who is racing up and down his strings with iron fingers as Rosen manipulates tubular bells and unselected cymbals for carillon-like tones. Perelman suddenly jumps down to the bow of his body tube to spew out growling Ben Webster-like tones that alternate with tiny, altissimo mouse squeaks for a while, then which mould themselves into a new theme for a few minutes, backed only by the bell tree. The saxman’s reed command is such that his shrill screeches can be subdivided into different timbres and with “Part 4” he does the same with abrasive, mulching mumbling grating growling undertones.

Eventually, before the piece fades out with a few bass string strums, the reedist has taken his playing beyond bar lines and compositional inferences into the realm of pure emotion, almost reaching the primitivism of someone like Arthur Doyle. Perelman’s scalpel sharp reed incisions are more deliberate though, a quality he shows on this tune and elsewhere.

Part 7”, for instance, which begins with a renal squeak soon transmogrifies into the saxman sounding out jaunty melodies to the accompaniment of the sort of chinga- chinga cymbal work Hemingway or Rosen would play behind any bopper. Expelling a lone reed fart before he smears burst tremolos all over the tune, Perelman ends it with more mouse-like squeaks as if as if struggling to expel the last bit of sound from his mouthpiece.

Earlier on, a few human throat cries join false registers, gravelly honks and rappelling tones as he works out and expels intense vibrations. Sometimes the result will be a polyphonic melody between the dual basses and the reed man, with them meeting his scream shards with their own dual thumps and double stops.

Most of the first CD pushes the bassists into the background, however, with Perelman honking entire passages altissimo and the drummers making like Rashied Ali and Elvin Jones with Coltrane. More cooperation is exhibited between these two than that ill-matched duo however. Most of the time they divide their parts up equitably, with Hemingway expressing himself in ratamacues, rim shots and press rolls and Rosen finessing clangs and chings out of his bells, cymbals and other percussive little instruments.

Generally the parts of the suite work better if the rhythm section doesn’t have to operate at full force. Give it time to regroup and exhibit say, flat picking, strumming or arco sweeps from the basses or nerve beat emphasis or ruffs from the drummers, then additional, less stark colors are added to the palate from which Perelman is painting.

This is shown in the starkest contrast on “Part 5” where the blizzards of screeching, aviary notes almost make it seem as if the reedist is bending his sax’s goose neck to produce them. Yet the truest sound arrives in the form of human skin hitting the wound steel of bass strings, and which seems to encourages the saxman to exit in a descending arc of reed harmonies.

Although Perelman proves that he can peck notes like John Coltrane, produce Woody Woodpecker-like cries, and move close to ballad territory at various times, this excess of extended techniques isn’t needed any more than excess brush strokes on a canvas. When all the artists exhibit their stylings into a group project as they do on the second disc things are most monumental.

Many times in the past Perelman has recorded his versions of exceptional aural canvases, while outlining an identifiable style. While there is much to like about SUITE FOR HELEN F., there’s also a bit of excess. A smaller canvas would have served his purposes better. Taking this to heart, next time out, he could paint his masterpiece.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Disc 1: 1. Part 1 2. Part 2 3. Part 3 Disc 2: 4. Part 4 5. Part 5 6. Part 1 Part 1 6 7. Part 7

Personnel: Ivo Perelman (tenor saxophone); Dominc Duval and Mark Dresser (basses) Gerry Hemingway (drums); Jay Rosen (drums and percussion)