Artist Feature:

Ivo Perelman
By Ken Waxman

“When [Brazilian director] Gustavo Galvão first asked me to do the soundtrack for his film I thought he was crazy,” confesses tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman, 52. “I said I don’t do that kind of thing and play to cues. I only play my music the way I do.” Yet Galvão, who had made a special trip to New York precisely to get the São Paulo-born saxophonist to create music for his film finally agreed to let Perelman do it his own way with musician of his own choice. Before heading into the studio with violist Matt Maneri and pianist Matthew Ship, Perelman explained the film concept to them, knowing that different moods would emerge as they recorded their improvisations. Titled after the fact, and sequenced into eight tracks, the improvisations now make up the music for the director’s first international feature A Violent Dose of Anything. (Uma Dose Violenta de Qualquer Coisa in Portuguese). Not only is the music preserved on a CD of the same title, but it recently won an award as best original soundtrack at a prestigious Brazilian film festival. Would he do other movie projects? “Introduce me to more people like Gustavo then I’ll do more film music,” jokes Perelman.

A Violent Dose of Anything is just one of the 13 CDs the saxophonist has released in the past two years in what has been a remarkable burst of creativity. Says Perelman, who has put out about four-dozen discs since he started recording in 1989: “I have to record when I feel something boiling up inside me, when I feel particularly strong in my sax playing and I’m exploring things differently. I realize I’m at the next plateau of my creating and I want to put it in front of the public.” New musical combinations also inspire Perelman and most of the 2012-2013 sessions involve variations of what is now a working group: Shipp, drummer Gerald Cleaver and guitarist/bassist Joe Morris. The ringer among the CDs is One, which for the first time finds the saxophonist improvising alongside Morris on electric bass and a drummer, Hungarian Balázs Pándi, primarily known as a rock musician.

It was Morris who was involved in the genesis of both groups. Hanging out, following an appearance at a Spanish jazz festival, Perelman, who had played infrequently with Shipp and Morris in the past, found out that both were interested in working regularly with him. The final element was Cleaver, who the saxophonist hadn’t played with before, but who he now describes as “the ultimate drummer”. Since that time the foursome has recorded different quartet, trio and duo sessions; and a European Shipp-Perelman duo tour is planned for 2014. As for One, Morris, who plays with Pándi in Slobber Pup, “said he was working with this drummer who really liked my work,” notes the saxophonist. “I ended up at the Stone to see his playing which was very loud for my taste, but the excitement was there. Pándi’s a powerful rock guy, but he also loves Elvin Jones. Three days later we were in the studio.” Perelman is also part of a duo with Maneri, which has a CD ready for release. “Tenor saxophone and viola is a duo made in heaven” the reedist exclaims. “Playing with Mat is like playing with my alter ego.”

Involving himself in many forms of improvised creativity is nothing new for Perelman. For the last 15 years or so for instance, he has developed a reputation as a visual artist, with exhibitions around the world and a relationship with a São Paulo art gallery. “I’m obsessed with music”, he declares, “but now that I’m involved in art I have to be loyal to both.” Appropriately enough the art flowed directly from his music. After recording The Eye Listens in 1998, Perelman, decided that the proposed CD cover wasn’t good enough. Even though he had never painted before, “I said I can do something as good, or at least something that would satisfy me. I got some paint, locked myself in my apartment, started experimenting and didn’t come out for a month. It was ecstasy.” Because of this involvement in painting, the saxophonist figures his music is now more visually oriented. “It’s all the same creative process though,” he declares. “I’m open to anything.” For instance if his solos now appear to sound more lyrical it’s because as someone “open to all saxophone players” pre-free-jazz-influences are finally showing up in his playing, he says.

Another instance of his fascination with visual art is Suite for Helen F., recorded with percussionists Gerry Hemingway and Jay Rosen plus bassist Mark Dresser and Dominic Duval. The honoree is NYC abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011). “When I first started painting I began going regularly to museums and was completely taken with her work, so I thought I’d pay her homage,” Perelman explains. However doesn’t know whether the artist ever heard the CD.

Two more discs from the Shipp-Perelman session will be released soon. “Our duets were so inspirational that we just recorded and recorded,” the saxman remembers. Nevertheless Perelman makes no apologies for his large discography, with three CDs often appearing simultaneously. “I take recording very seriously,” he states. “I’m not recording for my own entertainment. I’m recording to realize what I hear. It’s a bit like being pregnant and having to give birth, but recently it’s like I’m having triplets all the time,” he jokes.

At the same time, although committed to free expression, explaining that his solos come from “the mystery within”, the saxophonist disputes the idea that improvisation is completely spontaneous. “Nothing is 100% spontaneous, since everything you play reflects hours of practice, years of experience and your influences.”

It’s for this reason and to expose another avenue of creativity, that besides daily saxophone practicing he has begun sight reading scores without playing them. “The saxophone is just a huge tube which is an amplifier of musical thought,” he explains. “It’s tempting to be too physical about it and be trapped by the saxophone so that you’re playing saxophone rather than music. You don’t want your fingers to do the job but to strengthen your distinctive musical thought. By sight reading I’m practicing becoming a thinking musical person not a saxophone sound-making person.”

Recommended Listening:

Ivo Perelman - The Eye Listens (Boxholder 2000)

Ivo Perelman - Suite for Helen F. (Boxholder 2004)

Ivo Perelman - A Violent Dose of Anything (Leo 2013)

Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Gerald Cleaver - The Foreign Legion (Leo 2012)

Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/Gerald Cleaver - Family Ties (Leo 2012)

Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp - The Art of the Duet (Leo 2013)

Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/ Balázs Pándi - One (Rare Noise)

—For The New York City Jazz Record December2013