Matthew Shipp Trio at the Vortex in London

John Sharpe By

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Shipp slipped into a delicate hymn-like chorale, prompting Morris to unsheathe his bow, ushering in an exquisitely beautiful processional passage
Matthew Ship Trio
London, England
April 21, 2008

London's Vortex was packed to bursting for the first date in pianist Matthew Shipp's European tour with long-time associates Joe Morris (better known as a guitarist but here on bass) and Whit Dickey on drums. Those years of experience in assorted gatherings have enabled an almost telepathic level of communication among the threesome, as was reflected in the instantaneous twists and turns in the largely improvised, free- flowing music spread over 100 minutes and two sets.

Shipp opened the first set with a romantic oration, then changed attack, as if flicking dust from his keyboard, before signaling with a brief nod for the others to join. A brief repeated pattern presaged dense colloquy, with Dickey echoing and commenting obliquely on Shipp's lines, while Morris emitted a steady stream of throbbing bass notes, so that it became impossible to discern who was the leader and who was being led. Simultaneous crashes on hi-hat and ride cymbal provoked a hammering rejoinder from Shipp. Motifs, fragments and lines were unearthed, examined and repeated, or discarded in favor of other more fertile lines of inquiry, before moving on seamlessly. While some sections had an air of familiarity, it was difficult to judge whether they were extemporized or preconceived.

Dickey was a revelation: I had never quite realized how subtle a drummer he could be—never overpowering, but playing intricate patterns and independent rhythms with intense concentration, manifested in a grimace, sweat dripping from his nose unnoticed as he crammed tight cymbal designs into confined nooks and crannies. Moving quickly into lockstep, he was particularly sensitive to the pianist when a rhythmic motif presented itself. Shipp himself maintained a torrent of pianistic invention, long scrabbling lines, sometimes interrupted by blows with the heel of his hand, or repeating chordal cycles, used more as punctuation than a basis for development. Even in his more pastoral moments, the dark left hand poundings were never too far away. Morris provided fleet-fingered impetus, weaving variations on some of the rhythmic figures into his discourse, though rarely falling into step with them.

The high point of the evening came at the close of the first set when Shipp slipped into a delicate hymn- like chorale, prompting Morris to unsheathe his bow, ushering in an exquisitely beautiful processional passage that featured Morris' yelping arco explorations on either side of the bridge of his bass over Dickey's shimmering cymbals.

If anything, the second set was even more energized, with Dickey driving hard, Shipp dropping thunderclaps and Morris riffing and walking. Themes from the trio's excellent Piano Vortex (Thirsty Ear, 2007) also emerged, as well as what may or may not have been variations on Arlen's "Over The Rainbow." Clearings of spacious abstract pastoralism punctuated the trio interplay in contrast to the recent thickets of febrile pummeling. A lyrical solo exposition, barely concealing the glowering undercurrents, ended with Shipp introducing the foot-tapping "Key Swing" from the CD, and Dickey and Morris were on to it in a flash for a sleek and stirring finale.

Despite the audience clamor there was no encore, but there was also no cause for complaint as we had borne witness to an absorbing display combining vivacity and communion.


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