Ivo Perelman and Whit Dickey – Tenorhood (2015)

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Ivo Perelman is among a large group of excellent saxophonists operating today, but his ability to create out of thin air has few if any peers. Neil Tesser, who wrote the liner notes for his encounter with drummer Whit Dickey (Tenorhood, May 26 2015, Leo Records) boiled it down to this: “(Perelman) could be the poster boy for spontaneity.”

Perelman approaches every recording session the same way: with zero forethought. And every result couldn’t be any more different. To further assure the freshness, he finds a different partner (or combination of partners) for each record, feeding off the vibe of the musician(s) sitting across from him in the studio. Tenorhood is ostensibly led by the Brazilian-born sax master, but as with all Perelman improv projects, the resulting music is a meeting of minds.

Dickey, as fans of the NYC improv scene know well, had flourished with long and fruitful stints in combos led by David S. Ware and Matthew Shipp. There’s no way he could hang with Perelman — which he already had on plenty of occasions by this time — if he couldn’t hang with those guys, and he entered the Brooklyn studio in March of last year not knowing what music would come of the session but he came well prepared to know what to do when the time came. As a result, Tenorhood is another one of those meeting of the minds.

Read the song titles on Tenorhood (“For Webster,” “For Coltrane,” For Rollins, etc.) and you’ll be led to believe Perelman had plotted a tribute to all these tenor greats. He did, but subconsciously so. These legends are part of the building blocks of Perelman’s own vernacular that are so ingrained in him, he doesn’t even have to think about it, they just come out.

Perelman’s brand of jazz places closest to the primal emotion of Albert Ayler, and on “For Ayler,” he can, like Ayler, be sweet and acidic in a single breath. He makes lots of quick trips up to the stratosphere but comes down just long enough to flirt with making a straight melody.

But dig a little deeper and the ghosts of the masters from before the New Thing 60s keep haunting these performances. Perelman hides a traditional melody deep inside his alien phrases during “For Webster,” referring to the great ballad giant Ben Webster. Later on, he latches onto Dickey’s skipping beat and get percussive in his remarks. “For Mobley” conjures up Hank Mobley’s soulful spirit as Perelman glides up and down the range of the horn. Dickey — here and everywhere else– innately understands the saxophonist’s state of mind, and it’s obvious in how his drumming conforms around it and at the same time helps to shape it. Dickey even maintains a cadence and rhythm as he does this. Eventually, Perelman rests at the top of the range where he dances on the high wire without a net or care in the world.

Dickey himself is spotlighted sans Perelman on the drums-only presentation ironically titled “Tenorhood.” Here, his mallets on toms and cymbals is about all he needs to tell a complete tonal story. By contrast, the drum into to “For Rollins” is deft utilization of mainly the snare but once again, Dickey is able to construct timbre-rich percussive shapes with a light touch.

A rich history of arguably the centerpiece instrument of jazz as recounted instinctively by one of its most advanced living practitioners, Tenorhood explores what is possible on a tenor saxophone thanks to the innovations of Ivo Perelman’s forebears.

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