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Perelman's avant garde music offers challenges, rewards to listeners

Whether solo or in a group, Ivo Perelman challenges listeners with his avant garde music. Plus, new CDs for Harvey Mason, Oscar Penas, Mike Montrey Band and George Marinelli.

By Mike Greenblatt

It’s the avant-garde that keeps all other genres honest. As a listener, and a journalist, in my constant quest for new sound, I know I have to fathom and ultimately swallow uniquely dissonant and dense music that causes me to fret a little in my effort to digest it. Too much easy-listening mush—no matter what genre—turns my brain into oatmeal. In my youth, it was death metal that proved the successful alternative. Yet I felt I needed that jolt of anger and chaos to keep my edge.

In my waning years, it’s people like John Coltrane, Albert Ayler and now Ivo Perelman who reminds me I still need cacophony to keep the order that much more appreciated. Perelman’s three new CDs—a duo, trio and quartet—has the tenor saxophonist bleating, bleeping, bleeding, bopping, squirting, blipping, swinging, spitting and bonking out the kinds of sound devoid of time signatures, melody, harmony, rhythmic understandability or even a sense of prolonged-if-circuitous momentum. This begs the question: Why, then, listen to him at all? It’s brain-training. Then when you go back to more accessible music, it sounds even better. Don’t believe me? Try it.

Ivo Perelman Quartet

The Ivo Perelman Quartet's newest release is "The Other Edge" (Leo Records 699). It features Perelman, Matthew Shipp, MIchael Bisio and Walt Dickey.

“The Other Edge” (quartet), “Book Of Sound” (trio) and “Two Men Walking” (duo)—all from—casts Perelman as the provocateur, the problematic sax outlaw not only expanding boundaries but creating his own. As foreign as the sound may be to this old rock’n’roller with a soft spot for jazz and adventure, don’t give up on it. If you stay with it, delights will present themselves to you.

All three of these journeys were recorded between October 2013 and January 2014. In his 32-CD catalog (20 in the last four years and 12 in two mid-‘90s years), he’s tackled just about every jazz inch capable of being heard by the human ear.

Born in Brazil, Perelman certainly wasn’t influenced by samba. The duet CD is a sax/viola cupcake that has the artists each reaching for the highest possible sound (altissimo) that their respective instruments can create. Uh, I forgot screeching in the aforementioned. Initially, this extreme range is a little off-putting, but the 10 inventions, titled Part No. 1 to Part No. 10, if you surrender, are mesmerizing.

The trio outing is sax, piano and bass. The lack of drums allows one to slither between the chords as you listen but they don’t make it easy for you. It’s all one big piece of confounding music: “a multi-movement, album-length piece, tectonically balanced between exuberance and introspection, light and dark.” I tried, believe me, to find my way out of the dark, almost gave up, but was rescued by the light just as I almost deadened to its premise.

The quartet disc is all over the map—piano, bass, drums, tenor sax—ranging from classic swing and Balinese gamelan to “delicate rubato harmonics” and American Indian stomps.
Go ahead. I dare you. It’s good for you. I promise. And, as I said, it will keep all other musics honest when you go back. But be forewarned, you might get addicted to the syncopated surprises that await you.

Mike Montrey Band

Mike Montrey Band. Publicity photo.

“Song By Song By Song” (Water Productions) is the perfect title for a CD that has 10 singles on it released individually over the course of 15 months, recorded at six different studios in three states by the Mike Montrey Band. Despite this rather unique creative approach, this artistic endeavor still flows with an exactitude worthy of Phish or Mumford & Sons. It’s in the harmonies and the melodies of Jen Augustine, guitarist Montrey and bassist Duke. The three voices swirl over, under and sideways of each other. The effect is galvanizing. Add keyboards, drums and sax and you’ve got a stunning brew that gets more and more intoxicating with each listen.

Drummer-producer-composer Harvey Mason has been the studio man in demand for years. For "Chameleon," his Concord Music Group debut, he’s resurrected some hot jazz-funk 1970s grooves to actually improve upon (exception being the title track which comes from an album impossible to improve upon: Herbie Hancock’s pioneering “Head Hunters.”) Mason was on that legendary 1973 record and helped Hancock write it. Still, I dare say, he does, indeed, improve upon Grover Washington, Jr.’s “Black Frost,” Bobby Hutcherson’s “Montara,” Quincy Jones’ “If I Ever Lose This Heaven,” Donald Byrd’s “Places And Spaces” and Dave Grusin’s “Either Way” (which Mason wrote). Complete with trumpet, bass, keyboards, guitar, trombone, vocalists and sax, “Chameleon” is an apt title and an apt description of this multi-faceted, multi-genre master musician.

Harvey Mason Chameleon Concord Music Group
Oscar Penas. J Kats photo.

Oscar Penas. J Kats photo.

Oscar Penas, who hails from Catalonia, a principality existing in both Spain and France, is a Berklee grad with a master's degree in jazz performance. Born in Barcelona 41 years ago, he’s a real genre-buster: on “Music Of Departures And Returns” (Musikoz), he goes tango (“The Everyday Struggle” with a modern violin/accordion update), Cuban (“Rabo de Nube” with vocalist Esperanza Spalding), Brazilian (“Paquito’s Choro” with reedman D’Rivera himself) and Flamenco (“Paco”). His retooling of “Canco #6” by Catalonian composer Frederic Mompou [1893-1987] comes from when he was a kid. He probably couldn’t help himself. They say the music you love as a kid will be the music you love your whole life. In this case, Mampou’s theme for a local newscast was something Penas heard over and over on TV. “So we tweaked a few things,” he says, “but I believe we respected Mompou’s spirit.”

George Marinelli Bonnie Raitt Wild Onions Wing Ding Records

George Marinelli (left) took a break from his gig as a guitarist with Bonnie Raitt to complete his solo effort "Wild Onions" (WingDing Records).

Guitarist George Marinelli got some time off from his boss Bonnie Raitt to grow some “Wild Onions” (WingDing Records). He deserved it after touring the globe to promote her “Slipstream,” a 24/7 workload. He’s taken time off before. It’s his fourth solo album during times in Bruce Hornsby & The Range, touring with James Taylor and recording on the last Ray Charles album, “Genius Loves Company.” For the last 20 years, though, he’s been that other guitarist in Bonnie Raitt’s band. Playing every instrument on eight of the 10 “Wild Onions,” he covers Beatles (“Baby You’re A Rich Man”), Stones (“Dandelion”) and Clyde McPhatter’s “A Lover’s Question” (by Brook Benton). He’s got a soulful whiteboy voice and his originals already sound classic. Another keeper! GM