Andy Warhol once said, “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” But even he would’ve thought it was a bummer that, because of financial considerations, the new album Triptych by jazz saxophonist Ivo Perelman and pianist Matthew Shipp went from being a boxed set that presented an album’s worth of music each on CD, LP, and a cassette, and with each recorded with those formats in mind, to only being released digitally as Triptych I, Triptych II, and Triptych III. And while, sure, I really can’t hear the difference in audio quality (which might explain why I’m a music critic, not a music creator), and the songs are good regardless, I still can’t help but wish that Perelman and Shipp had gotten to see the collection as they intended.
For the rest of us, though, all three Triptych sets present the kind of free jazz adjacent music these two have presented countless times before on such albums as Fruition, Special Edition Box, and Amalgam (as you can see from my reviews here, here, and here).
Recorded in December of 2021…
(as were the other two), and intended to be released on CD, Triptych I presents a dozen tracks over the course of an hour, all of which are around four or five minutes long and — as is typical for these guys — are just numbered, not named. Hence why the opener, a slow burning bit of moody atmospherics, is called “One,” while the next track, a relatively more aggressive, loose, and squonky bit of free form expression, is called “Two.”
Triptych I then, not surprisingly, follows up with “Three,” another moody movement, albeit one where Perelman does push his sax to the edge of becoming noisy on occasion, especially towards the end. It’s followed, of course, by “Four,” on which Shipp initially gets a little peppy, and a little loose, while Perelman starts out taking a slower and more drawn out approach to his sax, until both get faster and more aggressive. Things then go back to being moody, albeit in more of a mid-tempo kind of way, for “Five,” on which Perelman plays in the smoky style and Shipp matches his mood.
Things then go back to being relatively upbeat for “Six,” the most scattershot and free form track on Triptych I, as it has Perelman and Shipp sounding more like they’re sparring than synchronizing. It’s a pattern that continues, albeit in a relatively mellower (read: not noisy) tone, for “Seven.” Things then get even moodier and mellower for “Eight,” a rather slow burner.
Pulling into the home stretch, Triptych I goes back to the free form but not aggro approach of “Four” and “Seven” for both “Nine” and “Eleven,” with the duo getting even moodier and more atmospheric for “Ten,” though not to the same extent as “One.” They then close Triptych I with, of course, “Twelve,” a slow burning, moody piece that’s rather eerie-sounding.
Perelman and Shipp then do something rather different for Triptych II, which they made for cassette. Instead of 12 tracks lasting an hour, like they do for Triptych I, II is just two tracks, but they’re both long; 19 and 17 and a half minutes each, to be exact. Maybe this is how these collections are different.
That said, these tunes are in the same vein as their shorter counterparts on I, just with the mood shifts taking place in the same songs. And, of course, with no proper names to muddy things up. On “Side A,” the duo start off slow, easing into it with some carefully chosen notes, a tempo and tone they maintain for a while, though they do, after a while, slowly start to get loose, and more aggressive, albeit never to the point of being a noisy cacophony. It also doesn’t last; a few minutes later, the two are back to being moody, a position they hold until they hit the 14 minute mark, at which point they take a sharp turn, getting even more energetic than before — including on Triptych I — until they once again calm down as the song comes to a close.
Then, on “Side B,” Perelman and Shipp once again start out…well, not mellow, but certainly mid-tempo, and even a little playful, kind of like they’re (musically) dancing around each other, trying to decide where to go for the next 17+ minutes. Which, it turns out, is again to play music on a bell curve, getting slowly more aggressive and noisy, then calming again, a pattern that repeats, though always somewhat slowly, as if wanting to avoid whiplash.
Which brings us to Triptych III, which was to be released on LP. Like II, it also consists of two lengthy tracks titled “Side A” and “Side B,” though they’re slightly shorter: fifteen and a half minutes each. That said, they’re no less expressive or interesting. “Side A,” which starts this set off, has them once again in a mellow mood, playing slowly and carefully, albeit with more of a smoky vibe than anything else in this collection. Though, again, like the other “Side A,” it also builds and builds, getting more aggressive, and then less so, a pattern that repeats. Except in this case, it gets really, really aggressive, bordering on noisy (or obliterating that border, depending on your free jazz perspective).
Triptych III then comes to a close with the other “Side B.” More even keeled than its counterpart, or its companion, the track starts and stays rather free jazz adjacent, keeping the aggression and noise to a minimum, but also not even approaching anything remotely mellow or moody.
As with Triptych I and Triptych II, Triptych III ends up working like one long suite, despite being broken up into multiple tracks. Which has me wondering why, when they learned the CD / LP / cassette version was nixed, they didn’t just turn these into three long tracks…except then I’d have to ask why they didn’t just combine everything into one two hour long super song, and now my head hurts.
Regardless of how it’s presented…
or packaged or perused, though, Triptych is still an impressive collection of free form jazz instrumentals. One that’s on par with, well, all the other albums that Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp have recorded together.