For their first album as a trio since 2015’s pioneering Butterfly Whispers, tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman, pianist Matthew Shipp and drummer Walt Dickey convened at Park West Studios in Brooklyn without having even discussed the parameters of their endeavor. Twenty years of making jewelry must have been on the Brazilian’s mind as he and his mates set out to crystallize eight gem jams putting their camaraderie, spontaneity and versatility to the test under the most dire of conditions: protests and pandemic. The result is the all-original and self-produced Garden of Jewels (Tao Forms) with tracks that include “Amethyst,” “Onyx,” “Emerald,” “Saphire” and “Diamond.” The cover is a photograph of one of Ivo’s creations. Shipp and Dickey cling to Ivo’s perpendicular angles and wildly blossoming flights of fancy like a second skin. Shipp, a leader in his own right, at times, sounds like he has 20 fingers.
There’s no describing Ivo. Genius comes to mind, but that overused appellation barely scratches the surface of one who actually hears colors and sees sound. The condition is known as synesthesia. Most, though, do not harness it quite like Ivo. It brings to his playing a visual quality that sets him apart from sax influences. There may be those who will play like him in the future but there is no one who has played like him in the past. In listening to Ivo, one must throw away all known concepts of meter and melody. He creates his own universe and only those with open minds are allowed in. Avant-garde to the max, Ivo, 60, has recorded 101 albums in 32 years.
Rich Halley, 74, must be a dreamer. He must dream of the perfect note. Through 23 albums as a leader, the Oregon tenor sax man has played with poets and dancers, bluesmen and worldbeat cats in Egypt where he lived for two years in the ‘60s. He’s played in Latin bands, funk bands and avant-garde collectives in San Francisco, Albuquerque and Portland. He’s explored jungles in Central America, climbed the mountains of Mexico and has a Master’s Degree in biology studying rattlesnakes.
The Shape of Things (Pine Eagle Records) has him blowing his soul inside-out in a very non-traditional way like Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and/or Wayne Shorter. Using the same personnel as he did on Terra Incognita (pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker), Halley, once again, splits the atom into wondrous radioactive isotopes of nuclear fission. He squeaks, burps, blurts, barks and breathes new life into an old instrument, the kind of indigenous life he must have discovered in the jungle. The man’s a scientist of sound. Do I dare say the 10:55 opener (“Tetrahedron”) and the 13:34 closer (“The Curved Horizon”) goes where no man has ever gone before? A special note on pianist Shipp: this cat is extraordinary no matter who he plays with.
Volume #1: To The Nth (self-released with help from the Ontario Arts Council), by The Nimmons Tribute band, pays homage to Phil Nimmons, 98, who only recently retired from teaching two years ago. He must love this. Credited with being “The Dean Of Canadian Jazz,” Nimmons is a clarinetist, band leader, composer, arranger and educator. His 400+ originals for big-band, quartet, film, radio, television and theater span the wide gamut of jazz in all its permutations. The octet interpreting his work here is a kaleidoscopic pinwheel of almost New Orleans proportions as it crazily veers in all directions at once. Or seemingly so.
The Canadian legend’s grandson Sean Nimmons plays keyboards but it’s the horns that make this thing swing with post-bop adventurism. Besides the obligatory bass/drums, the production/arrangements (by Sean) make crystal-clear use of trumpet, flugelhorn, alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet, tenor sax, trombone, baritone sax and bass clarinet in a freewheeling hour. Starting with “Nufsicisum” (which, if read backwards, sums up the Nimmons philosophy) and ending with “Liese” (for his grandmother), Sean’s keyboards are the glue that tethers the horns to Mother Earth lest they fly away. Bravo!