Tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman (listen to his episode of the BA podcast via Osiris, Apple or Spotify) rarely releases a single album’s worth of music at a time. (Polarity, a duo with trumpeter Nate Wooley out now on Burning Ambulance Music, is a recent exception.) He always seems to have a multi-disc box in him, and his latest set is one of his largest. Brass and Ivory Tales offers nine CDs’ worth of duos with pianists, recorded between 2014 and 2021. His creative partners on this epic journey are Dave Burrell, Marilyn Crispell, Sylvie Courvoisier, Agustí Fernández, Vijay Iyer, Aruán Ortiz, Aaron Parks, Angelica Sanchez, and Craig Taborn.
Each disc’s tracks, which as always with Perelman are totally improvised, are called chapters; the first disc (with Burrell) has only two, running 37 and 20 minutes respectively, while Disc 5, with Courvoisier, has eleven, the longest of which lasts 7:43 and the shortest just 2:41. Most have between five and nine.
It’s been something of a revelation to hear Perelman’s language develop over the last decade or so. He’s worked at such a stunning pace and in such a range of contexts, from traditional jazz quartets (sax, piano, bass, drums) to every conceivable trio combination to a seemingly never-ending duo conversation with pianist Matthew Shipp that it’s almost impossible to absorb all of his work unless it’s the only music you listen to. But what that means is that when you dip in here and there, you come away astonished by his command of his instrument. It seems, at this point, that there is no effect he cannot achieve on the tenor, and yet he never seems imitative of anyone else. He dwells in the saxophone’s tightest corners and most extreme registers, going extremely high and sometimes playing so softly that one can only hear the slightest hiss of air and the softest clack of the pads and valves, but at the same time his lines have both coherence and narrative flow. He’s going somewhere, not just throwing ideas out in the hope that his duo partner will do something with them.
When he’s paired with a particularly sympathetic partner, then, he’s able to create real songs in the moment, as on Disc 4, which features Parks. The pianist’s penchant for dramatic, even cinematic chords inspires Perelman to great heights; by the end, he’s emitting a piercing whistle that somehow remains musical. The second disc, with Crispell, begins in a swooningly romantic zone. Her chords could form an alternate wedding march, and Perelman plays like he’s standing on a cliff overlooking the sea at sunset.
Disc 7, which features Taborn, is at times surprisingly close to the spirit of Perelman’s work with Shipp. The two pianists share an affection for repetitive, cellular forms and for the keyboard’s low end, rumbling and clanging and occasionally spinning out into orbit. This inspires the saxophonist to long, winding lines with a burred, metallic feel not far from Archie Shepp or David Murray, but retaining the thoughtful abstraction that’s his own trademark.
There’s almost eight and a half hours of music on Brass & Ivory Tales. That’s a lot to absorb, and attempting it in a single sitting guarantees that you’ll miss most of its pleasures. Instead, sit with it, one disc per day, striving to keep comparisons between the various pianists out of your mind and instead enjoying each partnership for what it offers. Having made it to the end of this phase of Perelman’s journey, I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next.