They say that keeping things fresh is the key to a good relationship. But that advice doesn’t just apply to romance. Since 1997, jazz saxophonist Ivo Perelman and pianist Matthew Shipp have recorded more than three dozen albums together; some as a duo, some as two-thirds of a trio, and some as half of a quartet, but always with something new in mind. Now they’ve done something else different with Special Edition Box, a limited-edition boxed set that includes a studio album on CD, a live concert on Blu-ray, and a book on, uh, paper. And while this may be new for them, anyone who’s enjoyed their previous duo albums will find that it’s still them doing what they do so well.
Photo Credit: © Edson Kumasaka
For the first part of Special Edition Box —
the CD, Procedural Language — Perelman and Shipp present a dozen songs they recorded at Parkwest Studios in January of 2019. Clocking in at just north of 51 minutes, the disc has them playing their usual free jazz adjacent music, as well as some tracks that are more conventional. On “Track 1,” for instance (all the tracks are untitled), Perelman plays his sax like he’s in a moody mood, while Shipp strikes a similar tone on piano, albeit one that sounds more classically trained than jazzy. But then, for “Track 2,” they shift gears, with both getting a bit antsy.
But while this pattern may not repeat throughout Procedural Language, the rest of the tunes (save for one) do fall into one of those categories. For fans of their aggressive improvisations, there’s “Track 4,” “Track 5,” “Track 6,” the somewhat frantic “Track 10,” “Track 11,” and the nearly noisy “Track 12,” all of which are more spirited counterparts to the relatively moodier tunes “Track 3,” “Track 8,” and “Track 9.”
The exception, sort of, is “Track 7,” which mixes moods within the same song, as it starts with Shipp in classical-sounding mode, while Perelman carefully choses his notes, only to have both speed things up around the mid-way point. All of which makes for a rather interesting collection of improv-heavy music (well, assuming you don’t mind your jazz getting feisty).
Next, Special Edition Box presents a concert Perelman and Shipp played July 11, 2019, at the Sesc Pompeia in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Clocking in at slightly longer than an hour, the professionally shot video has the duo playing the same kind of mellow and aggro free jazz-adjacent music as they do on the CD. Except where Procedural Language had distinctive tracks, this concert has the twosome playing continuously (albeit with each occasionally taking breaks to allow the other some solo time). Is it a single song? A suite? A Phish-like jam session? Either way, it’s really interesting to listen to, especially those moments when Perelman and Shipp get playful on their respective instruments.
As for the visuals, the concert is professionally shot, but not in a way that’s artsy or overly slick like some rock concert videos I’ve seen. If anything, it’s more like the classical concerts my parents used to watch on PBS, albeit with more access. While it does have the requisite front of the stage and close-up shots, it also has some more interesting angles that come when you can set up a stationary camera right on stage. Though, again, the video is never gimmicky or does anything to overshadow the music.
Having said that, though, they could’ve done a little more with the Blu-ray. It’s just the concert; there’s no extras, even though a short interview, pre- or post-show, would’ve added something. Even the credits are rather bare bones, with no mid-credits scene in which Nick Fury recruits Perelman and Shipp for The Jazz Messengers, er The Avengers.
Along with the CD and Blu-ray, Special Edition Box also has a short, paperback book called Embrace Of The Souls. Written by Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg, the text chronicles the history of Perelman and Shipp’s collaborative career, with writings on such albums as 2019’s Live In Nuremburg and 2017’s The Art Of Perelman-Shipp Volume 6: Saturn, as well as Van Schouwburg’s original, unedited liner notes for 2017’s Live In Brussels. Though it also, interestingly, has Van Schouwburg’s thoughts on albums Perelman and Shipp have recorded apart, including Perelman’s 2014 duo disc with violinist / viola player Mat Maneri, Two Men Walking, as well as 2018’s Seraphic Lights, which Shipp made with bassist William Parker and poly-instrumentalist Daniel Carter. But while this book is informative, a lot of it reads like the liner notes of a jazz album (obviously), which means people who find such things inscrutable will not enjoy it either.
Last but not least, Special Edition Box has a booklet with the track listing for the CD, and info about who shot the concert video on the Blu-ray. Which, of course, could’ve been included in Embrace Of The Souls, but it’s almost better that it didn’t since it’s for this whole collection, while Embrace is as much its own thing as Procedural Language and the concert video.
So, will Special Edition Box save their relationship?
Will it breathe new life into this artistic collaboration? Or is it just another album they’ve made and I’m reading way too much into it in the hopes of enticing you to read this entire review? We may never know. But unto itself, Special Edition Box is more proof that Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp still have plenty to offer, both to each other and to their fans.