Matthew Shipp Announces Presidential Campaign

Mark Corroto By

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I like to think about Matthew Shipp's music in the same light as that of Eric Dolphy and Charlie Parker. If both artists, Bird and Dolphy, had the level of support from critics and listeners that they currently command while they were still alive, the pair would have been wealthy. Okay, that plus honest record companies executives that didn't rip them off and steal their publishing rights. What I'm getting at here is there are giants that live amongst us. Let's not wait 40 years after they've gone to appreciate their talents. If you've had an opportunity to witness Shipp in a live performance, you'll understand the presence he commands. Like Thelonious Monk, he has created a musical vocabulary and language that is idiosyncratic and incomparable in today's improvised jazz. Below is a sampling of his latest efforts.

Matthew Shipp Trio
ESP Disk

In the near future there will be debates as to which was the finest trio lineup Matthew Shipp put together. Some will favor bassist William Parker whose history with the pianist dates back to their association with David S. Ware from the early 1990s. Others will boost Michael Bisio, who has held the bass chair for the past decade. Then there are the drummers. Take your pick of Guillermo E. Brown, Gerald Cleaver, Whit Dickey, Susie Ibarra, or Newman Taylor Baker, who arrived with The Conduct of Jazz (Thirsty Ear Recordings, 2015), and can be heard on the trio outing Piano Song (Thirsty Ear Recordings, 2017). Both recordings, like Signature also feature Bisio.

Take your pick of lineups, but for my money, this latest incarnation of the Matthew Shipp trio is his finest working outfit and this disc might be its best exemplar. The title track opens with the pianist entering like a Carl Sandburg poem, on little cat feet, kneading and shaping a solo as wistful as any Bill Evans venture, yet applied with a high level math. What one takes from this trio is not one leader and a bass/drums support crew, but a robust synchronicity. Their 1+1+1 equals one, or at least something more than three. The whirling dynamism of "Flying Saucer" finds gunslinger quickness in Bisio's bass, Bakker's cymbal work, and, of course, Shipp's attack. In between the lengthy compositions "The Way" and "This Matrix," which may require a map and GPS to maneuver with its changes (although this trio does so with ease), Bisio and Baker are featured on inspired solos. Bisio, with his velvety tone, and Baker with magical cymbal work. The mid-tempo "Stager Ten" pairs walking bass and swinging pulse with Shipp's dive inside his piano to work strings and dampened notes as tongue-in-cheek hipsters.

A mini-masterpiece? Absolutely.

Matthew Shipp Trio w/Nicole Mitchell
All Things Are

This collaboration between Matthew Shipp's trio and flutist Nicole Mitchell might better be described as a confab or parley. By that I mean each party is testing out new ground and finding a mutual comfort zone on All Things Are. Of course that comes in the job description of an improvising musician. Shipp's partners, bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker, work together as a conversant trio. Mitchell is the wildcard here that perks the ears.

The now-Californian (by way of Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) artist released music under her own leadership in Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble, Black Earth Strings, Ice Crystal, Sonic Projections, and contributed to the collectives Frequency and Indigo Trio that includes the luminaries Hamid Drake, Harrison Bankhead, and Tomeka Reid. She has also collaborated, as has Shipp, with saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell. That connection is vital to this recording.

The four musicians explore territories mostly free from song form, a seeming requirement when they possess the creativity and music making ability to power a mid-size city. "Elements" opens the session with a commanding impetus. Newman Taylor Baker's cymbals signal drama, as Michael Bisio's bass chews up huge swaths of land. If Shipp and Mitchell chose, they could have pushed this recording into the thunderous land of free jazz. Instead, they opt to meet in the ethereal worlds, mining a delicacy and, at times, an eggshell-like fragility of sound. Mitchell's vocalese must be the answer. She can frame her sound as both wispy or hard-boiled. Minus Shipp on "It," Mitchell turns up the quiet before polishing off some energy clusters. Is she doing her best Matt Shipp imitation here? The most accessible and, maybe the signature piece here is the grooving "Void Of Ground." With an infectious pulse, both Shipp and Mitchell are freed to unchain their inner beasts. Bravo.

Matthew Shipp
Ao Vivo Jazz Na Fábrica

Listening to an hour-plus of solo Matthew Shipp piano recored live is exhausting. Let's assume it's also exhausting for the performer. This recording, made at the 2016 Jazz na Fábrica Festival (Jazz at the Factory Festival) in Sao Paulo, is another jewel in the great man's crown. The eleven tracks feel like an eleven round heavyweight fight with no bells indicating a rest.

If you are familiar with Shipp's approach, you know he mixes the energy of Cecil Taylor with the attack of Thelonious Monk, if Monk had conquered, then rejected European classical music. In other words, he has developed a language all his own. To use a sports metaphor, he leaves it all out on the field here. If you are unfamiliar with his compositions like "Whole Movement," "Gamma Ray," "Blue In Orion" and "Symbol Systems," pieces he returns to often, then his renditions of standards like ""Angel Eyes," "On Green Dolphin Street," "There Will Never Be Another You," "Yesterdays," and "Summertime" will inform you. The latter piece by {{George Gershwin" is disassembled sometimes carefully, other times with a cynicism born out of the jazz tradition of individualizing music. And Shipp does indeed personify the essence of jazz, his music is instantly identifiable, unique and exhilarating.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Signature; Deep To Deep; Flying Saucer; Snap; The Way; Stage ten; Speech of Form; Zo #2; New Z; This Matrix.

Personnel: Matthew Shipp: piano; Michael Bisio: bass; Newmann Taylor baker: drums. .

All Things Are

Tracks: Elements; Well Spring; It; Hidden Essence; Void of Ground; Water and Earth; Fire and Air; Blossom; All Things Are.

Personnel: Matthew Shipp: piano; Nicole Mitchell: flute, alto flute; Michael Bisio: double bass; Newman Taylor Baker: drums.

Ao Vivo Jazz Na Fábrica

Tracks: Symbol Systems; Angel Eyes; Whole Movement; On Green Dolphin Street; Invisible Night; There Will Never Be Another You; Blue In Orion; Yesterdays; Patmos; Gamma Ray; Summertime.

Personnel: Matthew Shipp: piano.
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