Matthew Shipp Trio at SFJAZZ

Harry S. Pariser By

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Matt Shipp Trio
San Francisco, CA
December 8, 2017

In this era, one where many of most popular musicians in the musical genre classified as "jazz" double as pop musicians, Matthew Shipp stands out. True to his craft since he moved to New York City in 1984, the 57-year-old Shipp has made innumerable recordings—solo, with a group, and as a sideman on dates with avant-garde legends David S. Ware and Roscoe Mitchell, as well as no less than 31 recordings with the Braziian-born avant-garde tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman.

On this particular evening, Shipp was making a rare West Coast appearance at SFJAZZ in their intimate Joe Henderson Lab. Clad in jeans and sneakers, Shipp sat down at the piano at stage right and played meditatively. Playing with Shipp since 2009, acoustic bassist Michael Bisio stood to his right. His dress shirt hung over pants with cuffs folded up. Bisio's long and straight but shaggy grey hair fell forward as he moved his chin up and down in concentration. Drummer Newman Taylor Baker—who has played with the likes of Billy Bang, Henry Threadgill, Billy Harper, Henry Grimes and Leroy Jenkins—sat behind his kit at the other end of the stage.

The trio has jelled in the years since Taylor-Baker arrived (replacing longtime Shipp associate Whit Dickey), and their interplay wass both fluid and solid. During the evening, the trio improvised on numbers such as "Virgin Complex," "Someday My Prince Will Come," "On Green Dolphin Street" and "What is This Thing Called Love?," during which Shipp procreated prolific pyrotechnics with the piano keys.

Seated at the black, gleaming Yamaha, Shipp played meditatively before he building up to a crescendo. His cupped fingers crawled forward in a way reminiscent of the struggle of a beached crab attempting to use its pincers to pull itself out of sand. He pulled his hands back towards him, over and over, fast and furious. His fingers would pounce with determination to the left of his keyboard, then the center; his right foot pounded the pedal, building up a cathedral-like structure. At times, he would exercise prodigious percussion, bringing up explosive notes and painting the air with sound. When the others would solo or duet, he would lean forward to relax, his arms stretched over the Yamaha's keyboard.

Bisio plucked his strings, pressed his hand flat down on his bass strings, brought forth squeaky sounds as he leaned back—his left hand fingering upward with thumb and two forefingers as he bowed, sawing the bow in a circle. A memorable moment was an innovative solo in which he lovingly rendered John Coltrane's "Wise One." Given his virtuousity, it is hard to understand why Bisio is not better known.

Taylor-Baker soloed confidently, his head bobbing up and down in time to the music; his long braided locks flowing. He brought both unusual texture and energy to the evening's music by playing the edges of his drums with his sticks and engaging in an explosive solo.

Shipp called the band as the evening's performance wound down, and the enthused audience milled about before departing.

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