Despite all evidence to the contrary, Ivo Perelman, the Brazilian-born, Boerum Hill–based tenor saxophonist, is not, rest assured, maniacal. Yes, his brand-new release, The Art of Perelman-Shipp, is a batch of seven CDs. And yes, it’s arrived just three months after Perelman released a six-CD series. But as provocative and ample as Perelman’s discography is, there’s method, and process, to his madness: That six-CD set, The Art of the Improv Trio, was a thorough, occasionally enthralling inquiry into the most common jazz group configurations. Perelman-Shipp is just as disciplined — and rewarding.
Perelman says there may be more records still to come later this year, to add to his seventy-plus-entry discography. “This is the best thing in my life,” Perelman says via Skype from São Paulo. “I wake up in the morning and say ‘today’s another chance for me to discover something,’ and that attitude translates to the studio. I start salivating. If I have a recording session on Wednesday, Tuesday night I’m salivating.”
In the new volumes — each nearly sixty minutes long and named after Saturn and six of its orbiting moons — the 56-year-old is accompanied by his longtime collaborator and astrological soul mate, pianist Matthew Shipp, who tells the Voice that when he first met the Brazilian he recognized an excellent musician but one “who also had a tinge of the crazy in him.” Joining the pair are some peers in free jazz’s inner ring of outsiders, including William Parker, Michael Bisio, and Bobby Kapp.
Enthusiasm and sense of purpose aside, Perelman — who recognizes that what he does “appeals to a minority of the jazz market” — still needs some help releasing his ecstatic vision to the world. That “ally” (Perelman’s word) would be Leo Feigin, who is 79, or as he says, as if he’s from another time, “Oh, I’m very old.” Like a Sebaldian character, he emigrated to England, in 1973, and eventually ended up far from the glamour of London — in his case Devon, instead of East Anglia. He’s obsessed with preserving and cataloging, and in the process has led a quietly extraordinary life, which now includes running Leo Records out of his specially built garage. “If you look at my label, the music is very weird, because I don’t produce music for money,” he says.
The Leo Records catalog boasts 900 titles , including some by free-jazz heroes like Cecil Taylor and Marilyn Crispell. “I care about originality of the music. Ivo’s music is original. Nobody plays like him.” says Feigin, who doesn’t mind the hefty discography, either. “Some people say Ivo records too much. To this my answer is, ‘Well, as long as the music is fresh, we’ll try to get it out.’ ”
When Perelman was a teenager, his first love was bossa nova, but he’s remained dedicated to the avant-garde, he says: “This is who I am — a bossa nova musician playing free jazz.” His tenor saxophone doesn’t even sound like the same instrument as, say, Ben Webster’s, though it does suggest David Murray channeling Ben Webster.
In conversation, Perelman, obsessed technician that he is, will cover twelve-tone music, the Alexander technique, baroque trumpets, his practice horns (sans keys, to emphasize breath control), and especially altissimo, the rarefied uppermost register on the saxophone. “I am a total student,” he says. “I approach music from that place, that humble place.”
Perelman’s music isn’t escapism: It delves into life in all its monotony and cacophony, its open doors and dead ends, its rage and bliss. There are times, as in parts one and two of the first volume, Titan, when Perelman sounds like he’s playing his mouthpiece (he insists he’s not). The sound is not like a horn, but like the first breath of life, or the last.
Elsewhere, in part six of Tarvos, for instance, he’ll turn one lovely phrase after the next, then become unruly. In several pieces (like part six of Pandora), some of his lines are clear and beautiful, while others are punctuated with sobs and rage, perhaps the perfect embodiment of the here and now. If he were a writer, he’d have the intellectual heft (and oft-impenetrability) of an Anne Carson; the abundance, if not the sales, of Karl Ove Knausgård.
Ivo being Ivo, he can’t stop, won’t stop, taking these journeys. “As long as I feel I have something to say, I will say it,” Perelman adds. “My duty is to produce art that is a hundred percent honest and genuine, without any ulterior goal, and I’m right in the midst of it.”