Matthew Shipp: Harmonic Disorder (2009)

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Matthew Shipp: Harmonic Disorder
Following up the excellence of Piano Vortex (Thirsty Ear, 2007) was always going to be a challenge for pianist Matthew Shipp. But with the trio's Harmonic Disorder, a slight change of emphasis has avoided the pitfalls of the changing same, while retaining the previous set's rhythmic and melodic accessibility. Whereas Vortex majored on eight pieces, the trio's wares here are spread over 14 tracks, with only three cuts breaking the five minute barrier, in a program a shade under 55 minutes. With so much concentrated into small capsules like musical haikus, there is a lot to absorb and much pleasure to be had in doing so.

Sometime guitarist Joe Morris handles bass duties with aplomb, whether walking assertively on the more traditional pieces, or wielding his bow masterfully for the atmospheric drone of "When the Curtain Falls on the Jazz Theater" and the plaintive deep yowls answering Shipp's repeated patterns on "Quantum Waves." Morris perhaps even garners a tribute on the piano and bass duet of "Mr. JM" which, after a garrulous opening, resolves into flowing lines before hyper Morse-code repetitions draw the piece to a close.

Drummer Whit Dickey, another long time musical associate of Shipp's, dating back to their tenure in David S. Ware's classic quartet, is more unobtrusive, apart from his polyrhythmic workout on "Zo Number 2." A close ear to his contribution reveals mesmerizing cymbals patterns sizzled throughout this disc.

With so many pieces, the spotlight falls as much on Shipp the composer as on the pianistic fireworks. Short piano motifs, deployed in a variety of ways, are the frequent building blocks. Sometimes they develop into jazzy themes such as the rollicking straight-ahead charge of the opening "GNG "or the driving "Roe" and the knotty "Zo Number 2." At other times they provide the superstructure against which others improvise, such as the two "Mel Chi" pieces, where the common denominator is a piano motif repeated with minimal variation; gruff arco bass sawing to atmospheric effect on the first and scuttling cymbals on the second. Elsewhere the motifs act as the catalysts which crystallize the pieces around them, as with the two bars of melody at the heart of the title track, or the ascending pattern which concludes the fractured blues of "Orb."

But it's not all about Shipp, as two standards make the playlist. Recent concert favorite "Someday My Prince Will Come" splices the theme with heavy left hand chords in rippling semi abstraction, while "There Will Never Be Another You" appears as a densely rolling carpet over pulsing free bass and drums.

All-in-all a worthy follow up and already a candidate for this year's best of lists.

Track Listing: GNG; There Will Never Be Another You; Harmonic Disorder; Someday My Prince Will Come; Mel Chi 2; Mr. JM; Mel Chi 1; Roe; Orb; Compost; Zo Number 2; Quantum Waves; Light; When the Curtain Falls on the Jazz Theater.

Personnel: Matthew Shipp: piano; Joe Morris: bass; Whit Dickey: drums.

Record Label: Thirsty Ear Recordings

Style: Free Improv/Avant-Garde


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