Perelman/Rosen: The Hammer
Ivo Perelman (saxophones), Jay Rosen (drums)
Kyhl/Nielsen: Ping Pong
Christian Kyhl (reeds), Peter Friis Nielsen (bass guitar)
(Ambiances Magnetiques: AM078CD)
Joelle Leandre (bass, voice), Danielle P Roger (percussion)
Three albums of duets: drums and reeds, reeds and bass, bass and reeds, as if to prove how wildly different the results can be from such a starting-point. Listening to them in succession, one is struck by the diasporas between free jazz and free improv, melody and texture, tradition and innovation, the old and the new. And one is also struck by how artificial those distinctions really are, and how many nuances and complexities they really hide.
Perelman's freewheeling jazz is relatively well-known; he's regularly characterised as a howler and a screamer, and in some respects this record will do nothing to appease the nay-sayers, any more than playing Interstellar Space is likely to shut up those who think Coltrane went off the rails after A Love Supreme. But it's lazy to wheel out Coltrane and Ali's monumental reed-and-drum duet as if it were the only yardstick by which to measure such undertakings, and as if one needed a yardstick at all. Much as Perelman's spiralling lines here do at times recall those from the album thirty-three years its senior, and Rosen occasionally pushes into the kinds of polyrythms most often associated with Ali, this is very contemporary free jazz and by no means a nostalgia trip.
Rosen's powerhouse performance here really does help. He has boundless energy and a quick imagination, and his long history with Perelman gives the men a mutual understanding which is crucial in such potentially exposed surroundings. They play fast and furiously for most of this record, making it a pummelling experience but a hugely enjoyable one; Perelman's gift for melody, which has been frequently remarked upon on these pages, is here in spades, and there is a geniune rugged beauty in his voice which can leave one breathless. His occasional lapses into tenderness -- ""Five Avocados"" sounding, for a second or two, as if it's gearing itself up for a slow, smokey ""'Round Midnight"" -- are cut with an acid sourness, avocados being best eaten with lemon juice, after all. Not for the faint of heart, this is nevertheless big, generous music which is crafted with an almost lost skill in an utterly modern style. Perelman and Charles Gayle are about the only masters of this kind of music, and a new album by either is generally cause for celebration, this one being no exception.
Leandre and Roger don't make free jazz, but free improv. There's a similar ferocity of energy, though, and it's not always at the quiet volumes most often associated with duets involving bass players. Leandre has a particular talent for sustained, timbral playing -- one could call it ""textural"", if that didn't imply some kind of background drone which is pretty distant from what she's most comfortable with. Roger is a fine partner in this regard, a percussionist who often favours scraping, dragging, rattling sounds to the sharp metronome crack of the stick.
The nine, mostly mid-length tracks here all have the great virtue of sounding distinctive and unique, something which can be very hard to achieve with improvising duets. Also, it's untrue that Leandre and Roger dispense with their ther fluid pulse or the roccoco melodicism which make Perelman and Rosen's disk so enjoyable. Indeed, while Leandre may not be a natural single-line player, ""Au Clair du Lune"" reveals her to be more than competent, with a singing arco we hear too rarely from her bass, accompanied by Roger's extremely abstruse punctuation. A little later ""Knit One, Purl Three"" plays joyously with various pulsed and non-pulsed times, reminding the listener that Leandre spends a lot of time with Anthony Braxton.
Peter Friis Nielsen is a very different kind of bass player: a player of the electric bass, to be precise, an instrument rarely associated with the world of jazz except in the much sneered-at world of ""jazz-rock fusion"". Which is a bit of a shame for Nielsen, who made a wonderful album with Peter Brotzmann last year. That connection (what with Brotzmann's undeserved reputation as a relentless noise-maker) might lead one to expect this pairing to be creating a big racket, as Perelman and Rosen do together or, to a lesser extent, Leandre and Roger. They have things in common with both pairs, but perhaps not the things you expect at first.
For a start, this music is melody-based like Perelman and Rosen's, Christian Kyhl being a rather linear player -- both he and Nielsen are ex-Tchicai sidemen, and there's a lot of Tchicai in Kyhl's approach. The short piecxes -- there are sixty spread over two disks -- often begin with a curl of a tune and wander casually away from it like the opening premise of a story told by a drunk. One has to be entirely honest here and say that Kyhl's voice isn't quite matured yet, and he seems, from time to time, to reach for things he doesn't have the finesse to pull off. The halting rhythm in his lines sounds at times like it may have technical rather than aesthetic roots, and although Kyhl uses a Braxtonian fourteen different reeds and flutes on this session, he doesn't sound equally comfortable with all of them.
It's as well, then, that this duo have wisely kept their statements brief and pithy, their subjects simple and direct. One is reminded of Sheppard and Tippet's 66 Shades of Lipstick, a groundbreaking record in market terms (it made huge sales for a free improv disk) and one characterised by to-the-point vignettes rather than extended wig-outs. This strategy is essential to the success of this disk, and successful it is, not least because it allows Kyhl's voice to grow on you without overstepping its (possible) limitations. Last month we covered some solo sax albums which pushed the technical envelope pretty hard, but some people, understandably, want their improvised music served a little cooler, more connected to the traditions of Tristano and Guiffre than Trane, Shepp and Ayler. Nielsen, what's more, plays wonderfully flexible stuff, mostly with conventional chops rather than sonic experiments, and that seems to give each piece a rubberiness which contrasts strongly with the muscular pulse of the other two duets discussed here. Well worth seeking out.