Matthew Shipp Trio: Elastic Aspects (2012)
Even with a discography amassing over 40 releases under his own name, pianist Matthew Shipp continues to justify the plaudits. Sometimes it can be hard to find new things to say about artists who have been active over such a lengthy period, but Shipp keeps ringing the changes to provide talking points. Unlike the stellar live double-disc Art of the Improviser (Thirsty Ear, 2011), Elastic Aspects is a studio outing featuring the pianist's trio of bassist Michael Bisio alongside longstanding drummer Whit Dickey. Whereas Shipp tends to merge pieces into a single set-long cascade onstage, here the program comprises a sequence of short interlinked tracks, with varying instrumental permutations. It is a successful format thoroughly tested on earlier albums such as Strata (Hatology, 1998) and Magnetism (Bleu Regard, 1999), producing the effect of a cohesive suite.
Shipp's trio forms an immensely talented unit. As ever, Bisio stuns with his bracing bottom end and fertile imagination, adroitly switching between lead, counterpoint and support. Shipp sounds like no-one else, with a style characterized by abrupt contrasts of crystalline delicacy rubbing shoulders with dissonant depth charges and insistent circular motifs. Supporting everything is Dickey's dexterous but undemonstrative rhythmic foundationnotable in itself, given his undoubted prowess and string of compelling albums under his own name in the early to mid-2000s.
In an audacious move, Shipp doesn't play at all on the opening "Alternative Aspects" which is given over to the bassist's deeply resonant elemental bowing, accompanied by gongs and cymbals evocative of some arcane ritual. Even the following "Aspects," for Shipp alone, clocks in at less than a minute. The four "Aspects" culminate in the title track, which pulls together elements arrayed previously, with Shipp recasting the theme to the accompaniment of rippling bass and eruptive cymbal splashes. All told, only six of the cuts feature the full trio, while there are three piano solos, one bass solo, a pair of bass and drum duets and a single bass and piano duet.
Other highlights include "Flow Chart," where Bisio's careering arco comes on like a caged animal fighting to escape the confines of Dickey's bursts of anchoring tattoo; "Raw Materials," which features a striking passage of chiming clarion notes from the leader bursting out of a courtly duet with Bisio's measured bass; the bassist's solo tour de force on "Rainforest"; and the final, episodic "Elastic Eye," revolving around a recurrent two note piano shout out. But even these peaks can be appreciated as just some of the standout episodes of a longer, richer whole. Shipp has waxed another winner.
Track Listing: Alternative Aspects; Aspects; Psychic Counterpart; Frame Focus; Flow Chart; Mute Voice; Explosive Aspects; Raw Materials; Rainforest; Stage 10; Dimension; Elastic Aspects; Elastic Eye.
Personnel: Matthew Shipp: piano; Michael Bisio: bass; Whit Dickey: drums.