As we’re reminded with the just-issued Root of Things, Matthew Shipp, Michael Bisio and Whit Dickey make up one of the most formidable acoustic trios in jazz of this day and age. The uncommon telepathy, the feel and the unpretentious emotion are the kinds of things that put them at or near the top of the list.
It’s those same qualities that also make them formidable companions to tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman, a dazzling revelation that came out of their first encounter, 2013’s The Edge. That record is, in my opinion, the best of a solid half-dozen batch of top-shelf encounters Perelman released last year. Now comes the sequel christened, appropriately enough, The Other Edge. Conceived, performed and recorded all at once a mere two months ago, the ad hoc way the record was made already tells you much about the music.
As it was before and as it is with anything involving these musicians, The Other Edge (March 25, 2014, Leo Records) is a series of conversations among very skilled performers who elevate above their skills simply by listening very closely to each other. This ain’t the Matthew Shipp Trio Plus One, it’s an almost completely different quartet, because everyone is accounting for Perelman and Perelman accounts for everyone.
Relying so much on feel and intuition, often the opening sequence of a performance sets in motion a sequence of events that become the song. Shipp introduces motifs on “Crystal Clear” and “Panem Et Circenses Part 2,” Perelman will react to it, adding complexity to the pianist’s open-ended shapes and then the two begin to connect and improvise in sync. “Latin Vibes,” on the other hand, is launched by Perelman’s chirps and squeals and Dickey’s soft rapping on the tom-toms. When Shipp and Bisio make their entry, the urgency level ratchets up.
Even more interesting is the strategy used for “The Other Edge.” Here, Perelman’s sax “chats” with Bisio’s pizzicato bass at the upper register, as Shipp and Dickey meekly nudge their way in then begin to assert themselves. The other two give no ground, though, and a distant storm evolves into the eye of a squall. Shipp and Dickey recede, and the song ends with just Perelman and Bisio again, but this time in a lower register.
“Desert Flower” is an instance where Perelman is seemingly cast against Shipp’s trio. Beginning with Perelman’s unmistakable vernacular alone, the other three soon join in, playing a tonal melody but Perelman doesn’t move off his atonal perch, although his flow follows the flow of the trio. Bisio and Dickey murmur at a perfect volume, not too loud or too soft. The biggest treat comes from “Big Bang Swing”; after a tentative beginning, an actual swing breaks out. However, Perelman doesn’t have to change character to fit his sax into this mainstream setting. The tempo gets on the verge of dissembling at times only to recompose itself, like as if an invisible hand is guiding the band.
Four sentences into his liner notes for the album, Bisio mused that he had “said too much already” about the album. I get that. You can’t sufficiently put it into words — though I tried — because The Other Edge isn’t at all about scales, tempos, or harmony. It’s about the collective impulsive expression of spirit, and their instruments are just the delivery systems by which they do that.
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