Although bassist Michael Bisio has performed with pianist Matthew Shipp on occasion over the past few years, very little documentation of their working relationship existed until the formation of Shipp's current trio, which features Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey. Floating Ice, their first recording together as a duo, arrives on the cusp of the trio's live debut, Art of the Improviser (Thirsty Ear, 2011), and studio follow-up, Elastic Aspects (Thirsty Ear, 2012).
The locomotive title track opens the date, setting the stage for a series of virtually telepathic exchanges between the two musicians that belie the relatively brief nature of their partnership. The mantra-like minimalism of Shipp's cascading pianism finds stylistic accord in Bisio's bustling pizzicato, their interweaving phrases vacillating between dynamic extremes of texture, tone and volume with impeccable timing. The pianist's scintillating filigrees dance gracefully among the bassist's oblique flourishes on "The Queen's Ballad," their dusky romanticism unified by a shared aesthetic sensibility that intermittently references enigmatic fragments of standard formsan aspect similarly demonstrated by the phantasmagoric abstractions of "Disc."
Although the album's title implies icy soundscapes awash in eddies of cool tranquility, the individual song titles suggest a much more varied lot. The aptly named "Swing Laser" careens with focused intensity, its fervent demeanor born from Shipp's pithy salvos and Bisio's subterranean rumblings; the bassist's sinewy arco cadenza at the coda further embellishes the number with multihued layers of coruscating brilliance. "Supernova" is similarly dramatic, while the mercurial "Holographic Rag" offers historical sleight of hand, transposing venerable ragtime tenets into a hallucinatory cubist collage of severe angles and capricious detours. "Decay" closes the record with simmering ardor; Shipp's pointed key strikes accentuate Bisio's coarse glissandi as the two pirouette unfettered until the final notes drift into oblivion.
Superbly recorded at Parkwest Studios in Brooklyn, Floating Ice is a revealing portrait of two master improvisers engaged in spontaneous discourse, with every nuance of their attentive interplay captured in minute detail. A testament to their shared chemistry, this session suggests the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration.
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