In the hands of people who are truly skilled or creative, the same ingredients can yield very different results. Just ask anyone who’s eaten Mexican food. Or Italian food. Or…well, you get the idea. It’s something I thought of after listening to The Purity Of Desire (CD), the new album by saxophonist Ivo Perelman, oud player Gordon Grdina, and percussionist Hamin Honari, during which I realized their music was similar but not the same as someone else whose music uses similar instrumentation.
Photo Credit: Genevieve Monro
Recorded in January of 2020 in Brooklyn, New York, The Purity Of Desire has Ivo Perelman teaming up with Gordon Grdina, who plays the oud (a Turkish lute-type instrument), and percussionist Hamin Honari, who, on these songs, plays a tombak (a Persian goblet drum), a daf (a Kurdish and Persian frame drum), and other percussive instruments. And while it’s the first time these three have worked as, well, threesome, Grdina and Honari have collaborated before on the former’s albums Ejdeha and Safar-e-Daroon, which were recorded under the name Gordon Grdinda’s The Marrow, and featured cellist Hank Robert, bassist Mark Helias, and, on the latter, violinist Josh Zubot.
But it’s the line-up on The Purity Of Desire that caught my attention when Mr. Perelman was nice enough to send me this album. That’s because it’s similar to the configuration that oud player Anouar Brahem has used on some of his better albums. On 1994’s Madar, for instance, Brahem and saxophonist Jan Garbarek teamed up with tabla player Ustad Shaukat Hussain (tablas are twin hand drums from India), while 2000’s Astrakan Café had Brahem collaborating with clarinet player Barbaros Erköse, along with bendir and darbouka player Lassad Hosni (a bendir is a Northern African frame drum; darboukas are goblet drums from Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt).
While The Purity Of Desire may have similar instrumentation as those other albums, though, it no more sounds like them than a burrito tastes like a quesadilla. And — not surprisingly — it largely has to do with their leaders. Brahem, for his part, plays his oud in a slow and careful manner, and his coworkers follow suit. Which is why his music is moody and atmospheric.
Conversely, Ivo Perelman is often more frantic and free jazz-esque in his playing on The Purity Of Desire. His music often skirts the line between traditional jazz and free form, which is what he frequently does on this nearly hour-long album’s eight track.
For instance, on the song “The Purity Of Desire,” which opens the album, Perelman plays his sax with a noisy and often staccato approach, with Grdina and Honari following suit. Similarly, “The Joy That Wounds” has Perelman, Grdina, and Honari all playing in a rather scattershot manner, which often makes this song seem more percussive than anything else.
A similar approach is also taken during “A Garden Beyond Paradise,” which has Perelman and Grdina playing frantically while Honari lays down a bed of percussive sounds that cushions both nicely. In the same vein, “Light Upon Light,” which concludes The Purity Of Desire, Perelman and Grdina taking a more aggressive stance, while Honari seems content to add percussive textures where he can.
This is not to say that everything on The Purity Of Desire is so free jazz adjacent. “Bridge To The Soul,” for instance, is more melodic than it is frantic, while “The Longing” is similarly less aggressive, even if it has Perelman, Grdina, and Honari playing fast and loose, especially towards the end. Then there’s “Music Of A Distant Drum,” which, ironically, isn’t an opportunity for Honari to take center stage, but instead has him adding percussive flourishes while Perelman skwonks his sax and Grdina picks at his oud like he’s trying to carefully take it apart.
There are even times when The Purity Of Desire gets almost as moody and atmospheric as an Anouar Braham album. Well, one time. Befitting its title, “Love Is A Stranger,” finds Perelman, Grdina, and Honari all in a subdued and relatively mellow mood, even when Perelman does get a little frisky on the sax.
Taken together, The Purity Of Desire is one of the more interesting albums Ivo Perelman has made in his long and prolific career. Heck, it would be one of the more interesting albums Anouar Brahem had made, and his career is almost as long but not as busy. I just hope that, like Brahem, the threesome of Perelman, Grdina, and Honari explore this musical territory more than once.