On Sorcerer Sessions, longtime fans of Matthew Shipp will recognize the dense, jagged boulder chords and conceptions that defined his musical world prior to his temporary “retirement” at 38. His music often featured thick dark dramatic playing and compositions, a main course that became a seasoning on Shipp’s recent Thirsty Ear collaborations. Now the same Shipp of large hands and aspirations comes out of retirement with this new collection. He’s joined by old friends Gerald Cleaver and William Parker, and new regulars like Daniel Roumain, a classical violinist turned imaginative improviser. Covering clarinets, Evan Ziporyn makes his debut on Thirsty Ear. His credits include Bang on a Can, Steve Reich, teaching at MIT, and composing for Western instruments with gamelan orchestras. His quicksilver thinking on both reeds yields highlight moments on several compositions.
“Pulsar” begins with Shipp introducing the stately structure of the tune. Parker and Roumain bow their way through the piece; Ziporyn soars on clarinet; Roumain plays gypsy variations. “Keystroke” opens with a computer keyboard being punched. Shipp pokes out convulsive unexpected melody with Ziporyn adding extended clarinet. At points, FLAM’s keypecking snatches a musician’s line to dissect, including his own key sounds. Shipp brings out some granite landslide improvs and delicate runs that get sampled and stretched while he continues to play. Ziporyn flies around the studio on melody.
“Lightforms” frames Shipp's brooding piano with empty church echo, ambient radio and processed noise. With Parker and Roumain bowing, Shipp lays out a simple beautiful piano line. “Urban Shadows” has Parker, Roumain and Cleaver playing in traffic, ambiently courtesy of FLAM. Police radios, street noise, Parker’s playful bass line, Roumain scrapes and whines dodging motorcycles and trains. Ziporyn’s bass clarinet waddles through like a goose in spite of Cleaver’s funky beat, which sometimes sounds mixed.
“x6” features multi-tracked Roumains keeping a clock-like rhythm with the other Roumains playing around a small theme. On “Fixed Point” Shipp plays one of his questioning songs with quiet space sounds swirling and Parker blurting bass bursts. Parker, Ziporyn, and Parker take “Invisible Steps,” an entertaining improv that would fit on one of the pianist's 2/13/61 albums.
The ballad ”Particle” has Roumain’s emotional violin altered and sent back to him changed, while Shipp stays slow and dark. Cleaver and Parker explore at will. Parker’s raw bowing introduces “Reformation,” Roumain answers him, and Cleaver brings sparse percussion. Shipp returns on “Modulate,” a more wistful ballad with versatile drumming by Cleaver and deep electric swells from FLAM. Shipp intones chords over a military march on “Last Chamber,” while “Mist” rises from FLAM’s control panel. A rigid clock beat contrasts Roumain’s throbbing violin. Shipp plays sparingly and detached.
Shipp’s most satisfying collection since New Orbit, Sorcerer Sessions returns to the highly personal musical environment he calls home. For all its chilly, austere aesthetics, it’s good to be back.
Personnel: Pulsar; Keystroke; Lightforms; Urban Shadows; x6; Fixed Point; Invisible Steps; Particle; Reformation; Modulate; Last Chamber; Mist.