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Matthew Shipp: Cosmic Suite

John Sharpe By

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A tangled web links the cast of Matthew Shipp’s latest recording on the adventurous NotTwo imprint. Saxophonist Daniel Carter features in Shipp’s Nubop Quartet and on his feted Strata (1997, HatHut) release, while Shipp has guested extensively with Other Dimensions In Music, one of Carter’s prime outlets. As a rhythm section, bassist Joe Morris and drummer Whit Dickey underpin Shipp’s current piano trio, but have a decade old back story on each others discs, and Carter joined both as part of the Ensemble of Possibilities at the 2008 Vision Festival. Nothing new in favored coteries hanging together, but the point here is that these guys know each other inside out and it shows in the unity of purpose which pervades these nine pieces.

Although billed as a suite, there are no obvious links between the cuts, which inhabit that delicious middle ground between the preconceived and the extemporized where distinctions blur, making the resultant offering more unknowable than a composition, yet more structured than complete improvisation. In fact it sometimes sounds as if the four are interpreting a set of themes, which are never stated yet subtly shape and color what is played.

While no-one consistently leads, Shipp’s insistent resounding chords act as recurring motifs which energize the group interaction before dissipating into dark rumbling undercurrents or romantic flourishes. Carter, who features on trumpet, clarinet and alto saxophone, studiously avoids the easy option of echoing Shipp, gliding serenely above the pianist’s repeated patterns. His abstract musings largely eschew the extreme registers; with bluesy melodics often ending in sighs or whispers. Part Eight is the exception where Carter’s urgent keening alto outpouring culminates in a ululating cry, returning later for a coda of delicate lyricism ending in a heart rending vibrato, for one of the highlights of the album.

Largely restrained, drummer Dickey nonetheless nurtures a continually evolving pulse, while keeping up an oblique commentary of intricate cymbal patterns and timbral variation. On bass Morris, though similarly controlled, cannily augments the already fertile group interaction, perhaps deploying a measured pizzicato in loose conjunction with Dickey or interjecting ominous arco flurries.

From the romantic cadences of Part One, through the spacey chamber feel of Part Three, which Shipp sits out allowing Carter’s percolating clarinet to hold court, to the bouncing rhythm of Part Four where a recurring riff from Shipp presages a tender dialogue between alto and bass, each piece is jam packed full of eventful detail defying description. Shipp features strongly Part Six where his lyrical lines make nodding acquaintance with the quick stepping bass and drums, while Part Seven is a solo piano exploration of varying tempos and registers. Part Nine delivers spacious resolution at journey’s end with sparse piano, murmurs and mutters from Carter’s alto, shaded by cymbal and drum textures before Morris’ pizzicato deliberation on what has gone before essays a downbeat ending to what has been an absorbing, surprising and intense session: one which handsomely repays repeated listening and matches the best of Shipp’s recent output.

Track Listing: Cosmic Suite Part One; Cosmic Suite Part Two; Cosmic Suite Part Three; Cosmic Suite Part Four; Cosmic Suite Part Five; Cosmic Suite Part Six; Cosmic Suite Part Seven; Cosmic Suite Part Eight; Cosmic Suite Part Nine.

Personnel: Matthew Shipp: piano; Daniel Carter: trumpet, clarinet, alto saxophone; Joe Morris: bass; Whit Dickey: drums.

Title: Cosmic Suite | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: NotTwo Records

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