Like his very good friend and sometimes bassist William Parker, pianist Matthew Shipp is well-versed in the outer reaches of jazz and the inner circle of free improvisation. And like his friend, he has produced a more conventional jazz trio recording, written in his own distinctive handwriting.
Beginning with Piano Vortex (Thirsty Ear, 2007), a new trio of Shipp with Whit Dickey (drums) and (guitarist and now more often) bassist Joe Morris emerged. As the self-titled disc ended, it seemed to signal a reexamination of bebop with "To Vitalize." The trio picks up where it left off on Harmonic Disorder with the opening "GNG." Morris and Dickey's infections groove allows Shipp's single-note right hand to play a slightly off-center brand of swing. His 'follow me' approach is repeated on the two standards "There Will Never Be Another You" and "Someday My Prince Will Come," where he references the melody to stay with the roadmap, but sometimes driving the car in a zigzag pattern, or sometimes even backwards. "Prince" utilizes huge chords juxtaposed against simple notes, while "Another You" skips along the surface in a high speed (almost-stride piano) manner.
The trio is completely sympathetic with Shipp's compositions. Dickey has been the pianist's drummer of choice, along with those of David S. Ware and Shipp, since the 1990s. Morris has recorded with the pianist often in recent years. Here, the trio sticks to shorter piecesthe longest track, "Zo Number 2," is only slightly longer than six minutes. But don't think this isn't a heavy disc; Shipp can make big statements within short time frames. His hammering "Roe" grabs two hands-full of keys as he applies his version of piano rolfing, and either the piano will need a tuning after this workout or he's realigned the keys. The dramatic effect is exhaustingly impressive.
Maybe the better studies here, though, are the simpler tracks"Orb," where Shipp's thoughts are almost audible as he chooses notes or the low-end, and "Quantum Waves," allowing Morris to mind the store as Dickey accents the cymbals and Shipp chases a rising tone.
Shipp's Vortex piano trio sets the bar quite high, and it might become the new standard in which the next wave of jazz trios will be judged.
Personnel: Matthew Shipp: piano; Joe Morris: bass; Whit Dickey: drums.