The Alexander Suite
is an eight-part piece performed by the unconventional orchestration of a tenor saxophonist (the brilliant Ivo Perelman) and a string quartet. Perelman is joined by the C.T. (Cecil Taylor) String Quartet, which consists of Dominic Duval (bass), Tomas Ulrich (cello), Jason Hwang (violin), and Ron Lawrence (viola).
But the effect is nothing like Charlie Parker with Strings. Perelman solos extensively over the foundation provided by the strings, but the quartet is by no means relegated to a mere supporting role. From the beginning to the end of the Suite the quartet matches Perelman step for step, whether he is purring moodily or exploring the farthest multiphonic Aylerian reaches.
The textures created by the instruments are various, and provide much of the drama of the disc. Perelman's upper register screeches are accompanied, and recontextualized, by the string accompaniment that matches him in range without needing to match him in intensity. Not to say that there is any lack of intensity among the string men, but only that the meeting of these disparate and yet beguilingly similar sounds created by the different instruments is enduringly fascinating.
The eight parts include a cornucopia of moods. Part one is somewhat characteristic in its gradual build (led by Perelman's tenor) to the upper reaches. Part two begins with Perelman gloriously unaccompanied, builds again to a pitch of emotion, and ends with Perelman's tenor dipping into grainy lyricism. Part three is led much more overtly by the strings, creating some intriguing percussive effects. When Perelman enters, however, he makes one of his most thoroughgoing searches of melodic possibilities, again swirling upward with the violin - and making his way back again.
Part four picks up and deepens a meditative vein that had some play in part three. Here the quintet (for such it is, in the blending of sounds) veers closest to contemporary classical motifs. Perelman is subdued and declamatory. Part five begins with some bowing that sounds like feedback. Part six, the longest of the sections at eleven and a half minutes, is a formidable array of textures, techniques, and moods. Perelam works over small melodic nodes of varying densities to great effect. After this section lesser musicians might have little left to say, but parts seven and eight are by no means letdowns.
This is unconventional but consistently interesting music. Perelman is a superb improviser who gets abundant opportunity to display his skill here. While the C.T. String Quartet doesn't give him the firepower and dynamic motion of a conventional "jazz" rhythm section, it more than makes up for this in the atmospheric fluidity and sensitiveness of the support they give the tenor man.
Those who appreciate creative improvised music should not miss The Alexander Suite.