Ivo Perelman

Brazilian Watercolour
Leo / CDLR266

Ivo Perelman / tenor sax, recorder, piano, Matthew Shipp / piano, Rashied Ali / drums, Guillherme Franco / percussion, wooden flute, Cyro Baptista / percussion, wooden flute

“En Adir” was Perelman’s take on the Jewish musics which he grew up with and which influenced him so strongly. This album may not complete the picture, but it adds a significant piece. What immediately strikes you in the line-up — and in the music — is that there’s no bass player. Expecting to hear William Parker weaving his way through Ali’s rhythmic maze as he does on Perelman’s trio disc Sad Life, the listener instead finds Franco and Baptista’s high-pitched membranophones. Odd? Well, no odder than finding the volcanic tenorist tackling “Desafinado”, I suppose.

Even the pianist’s left hand can’t fill the bass role on most tracks, because he isn’t on them; this is two sessions, one in duet with Shipp, the other with the three percussionists. They do, however, fit together nicely and there’s no sense of this being a “broken-backed” disk. Indeed, the variety they lend is very welcome.

The term “watercolour” usually indicates a transparent, deliberately simplistic lyricism which aims at quietude rather than passion. In that sense, it’s a misleading title. While many people will know Stan Getz’s limpid version of “Desafinado”, Perelman’s may come as a shock. He virtually — not completely, but virtually — abandons the melody, fragmenting it into a series of harsh ostinati and pitting them against a 2/4 samba-like rhythm cooked up by Ali, Franco and Baptista. “Summer Samba”, another Latin Jazz staple, gets a quick, gruff run-through before Perelman starts interrogating it and opening up its intervallic structure for inspection, eventually leaving it entirely behind except for a faint flavour. When it returns at the end, however, it’s as if it never went away.

The effect of a sax plus three percussionists — two of whom are very obviously Latin-schooled — is interesting. The comparison is bound to be made with Gato Barbieri’s “Latin America” series, but this music is really quite different. Where Barbieri played some astonishing music in those sessions, the sound is much less coherently fused with free jazz than it is on this disc. Ali fits into proceedings like a hand in a glove without having to change his customary style at all, setting rhythmic puzzles for his partners as complex as chess problems. Oh, and on two very brief quartet tracks, Perelman plays piano. Rather like a lot of people who play “free” piano as a second or third instrument, he sounds untutored and more interested in gesture than pitch for the most part. “Pandeiros”, though, turned out nice and funky and this listener wanted more of it.

The duets with Shipp are different again. They retain something of the flavour of Brazilian music, but it’s a much more distant echo. It’s nice to compare them with the duets with Borah Bergman which Perelman recorded a couple of years ago; where those are knotty and rigorous, this music is much more relaxed, and indeed much quieter. Perelman grapples with melodies as if he were hauling himself aboard a ship in a gale, and Shipp, wonderfully sensitive accompanist that he is, carefully nudges Perelman along rather than continually knocking him sideways as Bergman (very enjoyably) always does with his duettists. A duet with Bergman generally sounds like a good-humoured wrestling match; Perelman and Shipp seem to be sitting down, late at night, having a discussion over a bottle of wine. The rapport is tangible. It’s a very pleasant listen indeed. Richard Cochrane