My initial encounter with the opening cut of Suite for Helen evoked images of a man blowing saxophone with a nest of small stinging insects busy swarming inside his pants. To carry the image further, this man, though painfully beset, is resolute in a singular pursuit of his sonic mission—blowing the guts and maybe even the soul out of the end of his horn.
Having offered up that observation, let me add that I mean none of it derisively. Brazilian-born, New York-based saxophonist Ivo Perelman's Suite for Helen F. will certainly grate on the ears of those unattenuated to the free end of the jazz spectrum, but for those who have delved there—into the music Ornette Coleman and Dewey Redman and Don Cherry and late period John Coltrane—this double CD is an absolutely gripping experience.
The "double trio" refers to Perelman's sax backed by two bassists—Dominic Duval and Mark Dresser—and two drummers: Gerry Hemingway and Jay Rosen. The ensemble energy waxes and wanes, and there are moments of intricately woven textures, subtlety and repose, interspersed with longer intervals of hurricanes and train wrecks, maelstroms and fire and brimstone rants, fingernails-on-the-blackboard screeches and unholy gutteral howls.
And having said that, the marvel here is—apart from the take-no-prisoners sax blowing—the textures woven by the dual basses (with much bowing) and double drums sets (with much delicate cymbal work).
The Helen F. of the disc's title refers to American painter Helen Frankenthaler, and Perelman is himself a painter, an abstract expressionist brushsmith who renders images on canvas that are—judging by the reproductions of his work in the album art—similar in attitude to his musical compositions: bold and in your face, bellicose, with darker hues predominating.
The compositions comprising the suite, seven of them, are extended works, ranging in length from twenty to nine minutes duration, giving the double trio ample time to explore every aspect of the themes.
This one is definitely not for the faint of heart, but for fans of free jazz, it's an absorbing work of art. I find myself more facinated with each spin.