One of the most exhilarating qualities shared by great improvising musicians is the ability to bring one’s immediate situation – the joys, sorrows, fears and desires of the day – into each unique performance. What made this most recent convening of the Ivo Perelman Trio so singular was the fact that not only were all three musicians – prolific saxophonist Ivo Perelman, pianist Matthew Shipp, and drummer Whit Dickey – immersed in the same present-day miasma, so was every potential listener, wherever they might be.
Garden of Jewels was recorded in June 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic raged across the globe. On the day that these three longtime collaborators warily (and safely) entered the studio for the first time since the virus forced us indoors, the un-precedented circumstances provided the trio a profoundly urgent source of inspiration. At the same time, the country was in the midst of a series of turbulent protests that added an additional layer of vitality to the proceedings.
“There was so much creative tension in the air,” Perelman recalls. “It was the first time that I came out of hibernation in my Brooklyn apartment, where I’d been focused on playing the saxophone for many, many hours every day while listening to sirens outside and wondering what life was about. Matt, Whit and I came together and cathartically created music out of all this mess.”
While Garden of Jewels is only the second time that Perelman, Shipp and Dickey have recorded as a trio – the first, Butterfly Whispers, was released in 2015 – all three share a long and rich history. Shipp and Dickey, of course, worked together as integral members of the David S. Ware Quartet & in Shipp’s own Trio, while the pianist and Perelman have spent the last decade creating one of the most well-documented partnerships in improvised music history.
The trio entered the studio without having discussed what might transpire at the session – the eight tracks that resulted provide vivid evidence of the band’s deft spontaneity, kaleidoscopic versatility and deeply felt camaraderie. It’s also the latest glimpse of the ongoing evolution of their collective identity. “We’re like scientists dealing with sound,” Perelman says with a chuckle. “Each recording is a means to check our development.”
Also of note here is Perelman’s revived interest in jewellery-making, which Perelman initially took up 20 years ago and resumed shortly before the pandemic. One example of his recent work graces the cover of Garden of Jewels. In addition to suggesting its title, the graceful, elegant piece seems to materialize the fluid swoops and whorls of Perelman’s tenor sax lines into golden arabesques.
These pursuits not only provide an outlet for Perelman’s indefatigable creativity, but a source of light amidst the darkness of the present era. That balance is one that Perelman says the trio felt that June day in New York, and one whose energy pervaded beyond the studio walls.
“There was a dark energy surrounding all of us, counterbalanced by the sheer power of creation. We had to become an antenna to capture the angst and anxiety of the times and transform it into art and catharsis. There was a social function to that music, not just for us but for anyone who might hear it one day. I left the studio with a new soul.”
Released January 22, 2021 on Tao Forms
To be featured on World of Jazz 424
Recorded, Mixed and Mastered by Jim Clouse
at Park West Studios, Brooklyn, NY
Produced by Ivo Perelman & Whit Dickey