Photo: Peter Gannushkin / Courtesy of DL Media

Free Jazz Artist Ivo Perelman Finds ‘Kindred Spirits’ on Two New Collaborations

Tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman records with two different bass clarinetists on his latest free jazz releases.

Kindred Spirits
Ivo Perelman and Rudi Mahall
23 August 2018
Spiritual Prayers
Ivo Perelman and Jason Stein
23 August 2018

Free jazz is like abstract art. And like those people who look at a Jackson Pollock painting and say their kids could do better, detractors of free jazz often make similar remarks. Free jazz’s emphasis on improvisation, experimentation, and extemporization over melody, rhythm, and tone can confuse listeners on how to best approach it. The answer is deceptively simple. Just listen without expectations and get caught up in the inventiveness of creation. This is a preamble to a discussion of tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman’s most recent two releases with bass clarinetists, Kindred Spirits (Rudi Mahall) and Spiritual Prayers (with Jason Stein).

The free jazz music on these discs is full of squeals and discordances. Sometimes the two players seem to be locked into separate sensibilities that now and again find each other at musical crossroads. That is especially true on Kindred Spirits. Perelman wrote in the liner notes that he had only heard Mahall play for a minute on a YouTube video of him performing with the Globe Unity Orchestra and was so impressed that he emailed him an invitation to record. Mahall had never heard Perelman play before, but he accepted a roundtrip ticket from Germany to New York, came in on a Tuesday afternoon, recorded on Wednesday, and went back to Deutschland later that same day.

The double-disc that resulted reveals two musicians having fun and challenging each other to take things further out there. One might yip while the other one wails, and then the instrumentalists reverse roles. It is unclear if the 12 cuts on the double-disc set were recorded in order or if the cuts were placed together for some other reason. Both discs are approximately 50 minutes in length. CD One contains five tracks. CD Two has seven. None of the cuts have names. The individual tracks often end with a fanfare as if whatever brought them together for the moment had decisively played itself out.

Spiritual Prayers was recorded only five days later, and the results sound similar—to a point. Perelman often seems to be pushing Stein musically forward toward some transcendental goal. Stein will then take the lead and challenge Perelman to respond to a more earthly calling. While the eight individual tracks have no names, naming the album after supplications makes sense. Perelman says in the liner notes that while he is not an especially observant Jew, he said that playing with Stein felt like two rabbis davening together. One can hear a bit of their shared Russian-Polish Ashkenazi heritage in the music, although this may be due to coincidence. After all, the cries and shrieks of Jewish jazz (Klezmer) permeate much American jazz in general. Spiritual Prayers may be less frenetic than Kindred Spirits, but it is just as unpredictable. Both albums move in perplexing, mystifying ways. Trying to make sense out of the music requires one to listen without conventional expectations.

And to allow the musicians to follow their own strange (on track four of Spiritual Prayers the artists play entirely on their mouthpieces disconnected from their instruments) and enigmatic paths. This is not ambient music. It is not meant to be played in the background. It is meant to be heard with one’s third ear.

RATING 7 / 10