Throughout his career, saxophonist Ivo Perelman has worked with many different musicians, in many different configurations. But some of his best work has come when he’s teamed up with a piano player, be it Karl Berger (2014’s Reverie, 2016’s The Hitchhiker), Borah Bergman (1996’s Geometry), or the half a dozen he’s made with with Matthew Shipp. Which brings us to his new 9-disc boxed set, Brass And Ivory Tales (CD, digital), on which he collaborates with as many iconic piano players, most of whom are making their first appearance in his discography.
Recorded over the course of seven years — March of 2014 and June of 2021, to be exact — with each pianist getting their own disc, Brass And Ivory Tales has Perelman teaming with a variety of jazz piano players, ranging from veterans like Dave Burrell (who’s played with such sax masters as Archie Shepp and Dave Murray) to such relative newcomers as Aaron Parks, as well as those whose style varies from the avant garde (Agustí Fernández) to the relatively more conventional (Craig Taborn).
In fact, the only commonality between these players is that, with the exception of Marilyn Crispell, who played on Perelman’s 1997 albums En Adir and Sound Hierarchy, none have recorded with Perelman before. And even then, those albums were made by quartets, not duos.
Even the length of the songs on Brass And Ivory Tales vary greatly. Burrell’s disc has just two songs, one of which is 37 minutes long, while the other is over twenty, while Courvoisier’s has eleven tracks, with four under five minutes, and only one above seven. And then there’s Taborn’s disc, which goes from the 26-minute long “Chapter One” to the four-and-a-half-minute-long “Chapter Two,” and then from the five-and-a-half-minute-long “Chapter Three” into the nearly twenty-minute-long “Chapter Four.”
Oh, and yes, all of the songs are called “Chapter” and then their track number. As clever and creative as he may be, Ivo Perelman is apparently not much for song titles.
Dave Burrell, Marilyn Crispell, Aruán Ortiz
As for the individual discs, let’s start where Brass And Ivory Tales starts: Tale One with Dave Burrell, and its lengthy opener, “Chapter One.” On it, Perelman and Burrell sound like they’re improvising live, and having a playful time doing so, as this decidedly free jazz track veers left and right and back again with no discernable path. It is not for the faint of heart. The same can also be said of the other track, “Chapter Two,” which is just as interesting and improvised, but is often relatively mellower in tone.
Next, Perelman teams with Marilyn Crispell for the Tale Two disc of Brass And Ivory Tales, which are not just (as I mentioned) shorter, but they strike a different tone as well. “Chapter One,” “Chapter Three,” and “Chapter Seven,” for instance, sound like the kind of smoky jazz you’d hear in the nightclub scene of a noir crime movie…if there was something nefarious going on that necessitated the sax parts get a little skwonky. Meanwhile things get as free form on the other tracks as they did on Burrell’s disc, while the last tune, “Chapter Nine,” combines both approaches seamlessly.
This is followed on Brass And Ivory Tales by Tale Three, on which Perelman collaborates with Aruán Ortiz. For the first half, this is a decidedly different disc than the rest, largely due to how Ortiz’s playing is more percussive than melodic. And while the mood does shift, and often — “Chapter One” is a bit playful, while “Chapter Two” is dark — Ortiz’s playing is constantly spartan and atmospheric. There are even times, such as in “Take Three,” when Ortiz sounds like he’s influenced by the slightly untuned approach favored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross in their soundtrack work. But things do come back around for “Chapter Four” and “Chapter Five,” on which Perelman plays in his classic free jazz adjacent style, while Ortiz’s piano playing is playful but unlike what Burrell did on Tale One. Though things get down-right traditional for “Chapter Six” and “Chapter Seven,” with Perelman and Ortiz playing sparingly but moodily.
Aaron Parks, Sylvie Courvoisier, Agustí Fernández
Next (naturally), there’s Tale Four, on which Perelman teams with Aaron Parks for a trio of lengthy jams. For “Chapter One,” Parks plays in a fairly traditional manner, often playfully so, while Perelman slowly becomes more and then erratic (though never to the point where it becomes noisy or dissonant). Things then get decidedly moodier, and noisy, for “Chapter Two,” a pattern that continues during the album’s closer, “Chapter Three.”
Perelman then teams with Sylvie Courvoisier for Tale Five. While this starts out rather smoky, with “Chapter One” having Courvoisier and Perelman playing slowly and carefully, holding the notes like they’re holding their breath, lest the killer in the night might find them, things then take a turn into jumpy, free jazz territory for “Chapter Two,” as if the killer did find them…AND HE BROUGHT ICE CREAM. Perelman and Courvoisier then combines these moods for “Chapter Three,” “Chapter Four,” “Chapter Five,” and “Chapter Six,” after which Courvoisier and Perelman go back to the agrro / free jazz stylings for “Chapter Seven” and “Chapter Eight,” and then straight moody for “Chapter Nine.”
We next get Tale Six, with Perelman working side-by-side with Agustí Fernández. Like Courvoisier’s disc, this one also opens in a moody way, with “Chapter One” finding both Perelman and Fernández playing slowly and carefully, as if they’re too sad to do anything else. Except unlike Courvoisier’s, this disc alternates between the aggressive and upbeat and the dark and moody. Things then get playful for “Chapter Two,” downright noisy for “Chapter Three,” more sedate on “Chapter Four,” and then aggressive again for the dissonant and loosely structured “Chapter Five” and the frantic and noisy “Chapter Six.” The two then go back to mellow for the last three tracks, albeit with “Chapter Seven” having a smoky vibe, “Chapter Eight,” having the smoke become a flame that makes things a little more antsy towards the end, and “Chapter Nine” having an ominous tone, as if something bad happened in the fire.
Craig Taborn, Angelica Sanchez, Vijay Iyer
Brass And Ivory Tales next features Perelman’s work with Craig Taborn for Tale Seven, which follows the pattern established by Courvoisier’s and Fernández’s discs by starting out dark and smoky, but then evolving into something frantic and aggressive. The difference being that this all happens during the song “Chapter One,” which clocks in at a muscular half hour. This epic is followed by the relatively shorter and more aggressive “Chapter Two,” as well as “Chapter Three,” which has a similar mix of mood and noise as “Chapter One.” There’s then another epic, the scattershot “Chapter Four,” and the closer, “Chapter Five,” which has Taborn and Perelman being so playful you might wonder if they were just goofing around and then thought, “yeah, this works.”
Next, the Tale Eight disc of Brass And Ivory Tales boasts the piano stylings of Angelica Sanchez. More than any of the others, this disc sounds the most like a cohesive whole than a collection of tunes, almost as if the nine tracks were parts of a larger suite. The jumpy and playful “Chapter One” leads perfectly into the equally spirited “Chapter Two,” and even when there are hard breaks, like between “Chapter Four” and “Chapter Five,” there’s a common feel about Sanchez’s tone and Perelman’s playing that makes it feel like one hour-long, multi-part song.
And bringing it all home, so to speak, is Tale Nine of Brass And Ivory Tales, on which Perelman works with Vijay Iyer. One of the more free of the free jazz adjacent discs in this collection, it opens with, of course, “Chapter One,” on which both Perelman and Iyer play like they have an itch they just can’t reach. Iyer and Perelman then take a quick and mellow break for “Chapter Two,” before going from mellow to manic and back again repeatedly in both “Chapter Three” and the relatively moodier “Chapter Four” before ending this disc and this entire collection with the frantic and aggressive “Chapter Five.”
As varied as the discs of Brass And Ivory Tales may be, though — in tone, style, and length — they’re all about the same in terms of how enjoyable the music is. Granted, you need to be a fan of jazz that veers into free jazz territory, but never goes fully into it, but if you are, you’ll find something interesting and engaging on every disc, regardless of which piano player Perelman is playing with.