Back in November I was introduced to the idea of a jazz quartet being all sax players when I heard (and reviewed) the album The Circumference Of Reason by the ROVA Saxophone Quartet. Which is good because, without it, I might not have been prepared for what faced me when I started listening to (D)IVO (digital), an exceptional (and exceptionally) free jazz album by (DIVO) Saxophone Quartet, a four-piece consisting of tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman, soprano saxophonist Tony Malaby, alto saxophonist Tim Berne, and baritone saxophonist James Carter.
L to R: Tony Malaby, James Carter, Ivo Perelman, Tony Malaby, Tim Berne
Photo Credit: Peter Gannushkin
Recorded in January 2022…
at the Park West Studios in Brooklyn, New York, (D)IVO opens with a noisy, dissonant jam called “Part One” that will have haters of free jazz wondering when does the tuning end and the song begin, and fans of free jazz exclaiming, “damn, that’s some truly free form jazz.” Which isn’t to imply that Perelman, Malaby, Berne, and Carter aren’t on the same page, or not listening to each other, more that they’re playing off each other in both compatible and contradictory ways, and with no concern for whether it’s overtly melodic.
Things get even more frantic and noisy on the second track of (D)IVO, “Part Two.” In fact, there’s times in this song when they hold a note so long, or push air through their instrument with such force, that it almost sounds more like the feedback of an electric guitar than a wind instrument. And that continues at the end of the track when their playing becomes rather staccato. Coupled with the moments in which it sounds like these guys are all fighting for dominance, it makes for a rather crazed but still interesting bit of sonic texture.
And yes, while the album’s seven parts are numbered, they’re also distinct but also work together, more or less, as one long suite.
(DIVO) Saxophone Quartet’s (D)IVO then goes for a more spartan approach on “Part Three,” in which the four don’t exactly take turns, but they’re not playing over each other, either, and their individual playing also isn’t all that aggressive. As a result, this track is decidedly moodier than the first two pieces. Well, for a while, anyway. Around the mid-way point of this five and a half minute long song, everyone gets a little noisier, though never to the level of the first two tunes.
Next, (DIVO) Saxophone Quartet’s (D)IVO goes back to being aggressive with “Part Four,” but in kind of a showy way. And no, I don’t mean that derogatorily. More just that the foursome’s playing is decidedly more acrobatic on this track, like they all warmed up by playing “Flight Of The Bumblebee” and it just put them in a playful mood.
Things then go back to being frantic and noisy for “Part Five,” in which these sax masters start out playing in a rather staccato fashion. Which, again, has me thinking of rock guitar players soloing more than jazz men doing the same. And it only gets noisier and more aggressive from there.
But then, for “Part Six,” the (DIVO) Saxophone Quartet make a reversal and take (D)IVO into even moodier territory than they did on “Part Three” by having some of them hold their notes until they form a rather atmospheric tone — or maybe “drone” would be a better word — over which one or two of them can then slowly solo.
(D)IVO then comes to its conclusion with “Part Seven,” on which the (DIVO) Saxophone Quartet reverse course again…sort of. While it does get a bit aggro, it’s decidedly more like the playful “Part Four” than the album’s noisier opening track.
In the end,
while I may prefer when this foursome go the moodier route, I could say the same about the ROVA Saxophone Quartet, or any other jazz foursome you could mention, sax-exclusive or otherwise. I always prefer my jazz to be moody and atmospheric. But as aggressive free jazz goes, (D)IVO by the (DIVO) Saxophone Quartet is rather eye opening…even if your eyes are already open rather wide.