Free jazz can be a dicey thing. When one is literally pulling everything out of the ether, one runs the risk of creating work that may have visceral impact but has little in the way of a sense of inner logic and inner construction. For fifteen years or so, tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman has almost exclusively been working in the free jazz arena, and while the success of his output has been mixed, it would be unfair to call him anything but intensely devoted to his craft. Perelman’s best works have a kind of gut-punch impact to them, and his latest release, the double-CD work Suite for Helen F. , is nothing if not deeply emotional and provocative.
That being said, Perelman’s work is clearly not for everyone. Even aficionados of free jazz may find his work too raw for their liking; those who prefer more chamber-like free jazz will find this far too intense. However, fans of late-period Coltrane, Science Fiction -era Coleman or the more abstract work of Albert Ayler will find plenty to like in Suite for Helen F.
Backed up by two bassists (Dominic Duval and Mark Dresser) and two percussionists (Jay Rosen and Gerry Hemingway), Perelman has enough instrumental support to range from spacious microtonality to mind-thumping intensity, with an emphasis on the latter. As has been his habit, Perelman has surrounded himself with a fine group of free players whose instincts are strong; even though there are two players (times two) occupying the same aural space, they rarely get in each other's way. Things may sometimes get cluttered, but one gets the sense that each player implicitly chooses a role, for any given segment, that complements rather than detracts from the role of the other. As dense as the proceedings often get, individual players are always discernable.
There is no question that two CDs worth of this kind of material is draining; one is left feeling exhausted, and with a real need to cleanse the palette. But the inherent emotion and astounding energy of this music has its own merits, and Perelman is nothing if not passionate. There is the impression that Perelman is literally purging himself of his demons; there is a clear sense of reckless abandon. But, within the confines of each piece, there are variations in tone, timbre and texture, and a sense of development that implies a larger game plan. Clearly, while this is free jazz in the purest sense, there is an arc to the entire suite that infers something bigger.
For the daring listener with an ability to handle some serious energy, Suite for Helen F. holds many rewards and is well worth the (extended) time.
Track Listing: Disc 1: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 Disc 2: Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7
Personnel: Ivo Perelman (tenor saxophone), Dominic Duval (bass), Mark Dresser (bass), Gerry Hemingway (drums), Jay Rosen (drums, percussion)