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Interview with Ivo Perelman


vo Perelman is a prolific musician who has worked with virtually anyone you can name in the free jazz world and then some. Originally from Brazil but now a New York resident, Ivo is a powerful voice in improvised music and his playing style is distinctive, with an accomplished use of altissimo to add to the range of sounds produced by his beloved tenor saxophone. He has released over one hundred recordings to date. I have been lucky to work with him a few times on different projects. For The Riff readers, I decided to ask Ivo a few questions.

SS= Sammy Stein; IP = Ivo Perelman

SS – You put out regular releases with different collaborators. What drives you to produce such regular volumes of music and what inspires you to play with someone?

IP – I feel the need to keep evolving, both in sheer sound-producing issues as well as more specific musical language parameters, because I shy away from comfort zones. Playing music that sounds familiar just bores me to death so I keep searching. Documenting every step of the way is the best way to observe change and growth. And that is exactly what inspires me to play with someone; when I can hear in that person the potential for transformative interplay.

SS – Can you think of the moment when you knew music was going to be your life?

IP – Throughout my early childhood there were moments/indications that I was going to embrace music as a profession and way of life, but no ONE huge moment. But there was a moment when I realized I was going to play the tenor sax only for the rest of my life. I was 16 or 17 and had been playing all kinds of musical instruments (clarinet, piano, cello, trombone, mandolin, guitar, bass) without a clue which one to specialize in until I tried the tenor sax. That was a turning point for me, I still remember it vividly, the sax felt like an elephant or some wild animal with a powerful voice of its own. I still have some of that feeling every day I play.

SS – The past couple of years have been difficult – were they hard for you during the pandemic? How did you manage to stay connected and creative?

IP – The past two years were certainly hard for all musicians but I managed to stay creative by carefully planning a new series of sax studies to keep me busy and securing a series of studio recording dates with a few labels. So paradoxically the last two years have been some of the busiest, most creative years for me.

SS – You once told me that you considered free jazz to be akin to classical music in its importance – only maybe we had not seen this yet. Is this still your opinion?

IP - Yes I think free jazz, when properly practiced by its most successful exponents, can be some of the ultimate 20th-century art form because it crystalized all of jazz’s previous aesthetic achievements into a complex and coherent language comparable to classical music.

SS – Given how the way we access music has changed in recent years, imagine you are asked by an aspiring musician whether it is worth going into music. What would you say to them and what qualities do they need?

IP - It is worth going into music if you know deep in your heart that there is absolutely nothing else you would rather do in life. And if you decide that is the case, it’ll take a lot of perseverance, discipline, and a tough skin to withstand possible criticism and self-criticism.

SS – Is there anything, in your opinion, which needs to change in the music industry? There are many artists putting music out, there is streaming, many online review sites, and many writers. Could this lead to it being difficult to navigate to the good material? Do you consider anything which could help with this?

IP - Nothing needs to change in the music industry. It’s all taking its natural course.

The dynamics now are equal to the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. It’s all proportional and relative. The huge numbers of things now are counterbalanced by how fast information is transmitted and there are no more unknown great jazz artists today than before, nor are there no more substantially economically successful jazz artists today than before. Back in those days, there were fewer souls on the planet, fewer labels, less specialized media, critics, music schools, etc so it is all a matter of proportion.

SS – What next for Ivo Perelman? Have you any collaborations coming up, or any projects for 2023?

IP – I have been very busy doing studio projects so there will be many new recordings coming in the near future from great labels like Mahakala, Tao Records, Sluchaj, ESP, and Burning Ambulance featuring many of my usual partners but also new partnerships like Elliot Sharp, Matt Moran, Ray Anderson, Marc Ribot, Mark Helias, Fay Victor Tom Rainey, and Iva Bittova.

Since we spoke Ivo has put out more collaborations and you can read reviews here:

So, there you have it – the current state of things according to Ivo Perelman. Ivo is supportive of writers and fellow musicians alike and it is always interesting to see what comes next from this intuitive and talented player


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