Blue Purge
Leo Records CD LR 412

Black on White
Clean Feed CF024CD

Exercises in aural color fields, both these trio CDs are helmed by committed improv saxophonists who are also involved in visual art. As well as advancing free music with anyone he can, Seattle-based alto saxophonist Wally Shoup merges the sophisticated with the primitive in his Outsider Art paintings. He created the hard-edged semi-abstract on his CD booklet cover. Meanwhile, Brazilian-born, Brooklyn-based tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman has been praised more in art circles for his abstract paintings over the past couple of years than he has been for his abrasive free sounds in the so-called jazz world.

Unaware of one another, the two reedmen have a color in their CD titles, which may be more descriptive than they imagine. Perelman’s nine harsh, uncompromising improvisations starkly reduce the playing field to black and white. There are no hints of the blues of any hue on Shoup’s CD, but he and his associates are able to purge themselves of most tradition-oriented impulses during the course of the disc’s 11 tracks.

Although visual art is solitary as opposed to group improvisation, the bassist and drummer on each session here aid the featured artists as concretely as members of famous painter’s workshops did in the Renaissance. The tenor saxophonist is seconded by a team that was Cecil Taylor’s rhythm section at the time, although New York-based bassist Dominic Duval and drummer Jackson Krall have also worked with nearly every committed improviser from multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee to bassist William Parker. Younger, the alto man’s West Coast crew include bassist Reuben Radding, who has also recorded with New York’s multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter and drummer Bob Rees, who performs with jam bands Beecraft and Flowmotion

Although performers have worked with Shoup for a couple of years, it’s Radding who seems more simpatico with the saxophonist’s methods. Although he constructs dexterous counterpoint to Shoup’s lines, Rees rarely moves beyond the rolls, bounces and flams of accompaniment.

Take one of the instantly composed tunes like “Moiling”. While the drummer’s response to Shoup’s kazoo-like reed vibrations are solid bangs, the bassist decorates the theme statement with quick, vibrating wrenches. Tongue thrusting so that the vibration is heard as well as the note itself, the alto saxophonist produces a cloudy interface ranging between low-pitched honks and buzzy screeches. As the saxman wrenches diamond-hard tones from his mouthpiece, Radding’s response is col legno as Shoup’s quivering split tones turn supple. On top of rim shots from Rees, the reedist constructs a coda from a prolonged altissimo screech, inflated with cries vocalized through the horn.

From there the three can easily turn to “LoggerHeads” – at which they’re definitely not – a slipping and sliding hard-boppy tune that includes rumbling drums and walking bass. Shoup’s wiggling split tones and pitch vibrations are extended by animated, sul ponticello bowed bass lines. Decelerating to slower-paced yakkity sax-like vibrations, the tone bring forth aggregated rolls from Rees – one of the few times he really asserts himself – and a steady pulse from Radding.

Then there’s “Purgations”, where Shoup’s tone is thick with the sort of slithering glossolalia Albert Ayler would have produced in the 1960s. To mix an art metaphor, he soon expands his honks with a vibrato wider than a house painter’s brush. As before, Rees keeps the tempo steady, while the bassist’s key sliding causes the reedist to moderate his false register exploration – glossy tones meet freebop-like string rubs.

Other pieces make use of techniques as different as reed snorts, soft mallet pressure and spiccato bowing. However the composition that sums up the painterly view of the three has the unlovely title of “Gut Luv”. Pointillism is evoked through a mid-tempo, moderato approach as Shoup lets overtones from single notes seep into the others’ responses like color splashes merging with other pigmentation. Radding cautiously creates his brush strokes from string samples near the tuning pegs and below the bridge –with the resulting sounds moving the bull fiddle into koto or guzheng territory – until eventually giving way to a straightahead plucked solo. Shoup’s conclusive symbolic brush strokes are sonorous but still scratchy.

In contrast to the episodic miniatures the Shoup three spread out on their canvas, Perelman’s trio concentrates on nine sound paintings, with the first three around or exceeding the 10-minute mark. Braying and yapping, Perelman’s tenor could be the auditory definition of abstract expressionism as he zigzags through the themes like a drip painter.

On the first and longest piece, which is also the title track, his squeals and doits make common cause with the bowed portamento from bassist Duval. Double- and triple- tonguing, Perelman treats his composition like an artist’s preliminary pencil sketches, drafting one idea after another onto the canvas and working variations on each. As Krall bangs away in the background – here, he too is as self-effacing as Rees is on the other CD – the thickness of the saxophonist’s lines then skitter into the equivalent of narrow brush strokes: choked, unaccompanied altissimo.

Perelman’s molten reed interface can be as in-your-face as Ayler’s was, as he demonstrates on a piece like “Cumplicidade”. Proceeding on raw energy, he uses lower-pitched tongue slaps and cries to construct a new melody that matches shaking chirps at one end and basso honks at the other. Meanwhile Duval produces guitar-like chromatic runs that interrupt Perelman’s irregularly pitched and repetitive chirrups.

Elsewhere, in between the saxophonist’s frequent, yet unexpected detours into overblown altissimo, Duval gets to showcase his dense, steady finger plucks and bowing. Like artists such as Picasso, Perelman moves through different techniques. As a break from his hard-edged approach, a couple of tunes could be from his Blue Period. These are moody, near-ballads like “Transparencia” and “Areia”.

Passionate, but still limned with the same roughness the reedist brings to quicker numbers, the two find him projecting more vibrations from his diaphragm and slurring snorts and tongue stops with the wide projection of a primitive artist. Sometimes, as on the second tune, to overcome Duval’s bulky sul ponticello qualities and Krall’s stout press rolls, he squeals so coarsely that the resulting sonic seems to come as much from the ligature as from the reed and mouthpiece.

Rigorous and obdurate Perelman’s BLACK ON WHITE can be acknowledged more than appreciated for its unrelieved harshness, which makes it seem lengthier than its 66 minutes. Approximately six minutes shorter, BLUE PURGE also seems to offer more variety. Both are fine sessions, but the listener has to decide how austere a CD he or she wants.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Black: 1. Black On White 2. Naked Seeds 3. Cumplicidade 4. Cores 5. Transparencia 6. Brilhante 7. Areia 8. Olhos 9. Sementes Nuas.

Personnel: Black: Ivo Perelman (tenor saxophone); Dominic Duval (bass); Jackson Krall (drums)

Track Listing: Blue: 1. Ruffing It 2. Depth Charge 3. Hue and Cry 4. Moiling 5. Lunar Dust 6. LoggerHeads 7. Gut Luv 8. Purgations 9. Get Me One 10. Psyche Knot 11. Web Core

Personnel: Blue: Wally Shoup (alto saxophone); Reuben Radding (bass); Bob Rees (drums)