The finest compliment you can pay an artist is that his music is instantly recognized in a blindfold test. Sure, back in the day most experienced listeners could identify a Bud Powell
, Bill Evans
, or Oscar Peterson
recording. It's just, these days, there are so many Powell, Evans, and Peterson soundalikes, schooled in the art of emulation, that identity is no longer a prized commodity. That is, unless you value an original voice, one like that of Matthew Shipp.
Of course, recognition requires listening. If you have the opportunity, there have been plenty of Shipp recordings with which to become acquainted. Since the late 1980s, he has led or collaborated on 150+ sessions with David S. Ware
, Ivo Perelman
, William Parker
, Joe Morris
and Mat Maneri
, to name just a few. Although his solo outings are becoming legendary, it is his piano trio (traditional piano/bass/drums) recordings that will cement his role in the history of jazz, such that, in twenty years the next crop of young lions will be Shipp impersonators.
That sound I speak of is immediately apparent in the opening solo piece. "Links" places the listener between the structure of classical piano and the possibilities of improvisation. Like a Zen ensō painting, his formal structure is hand drawn with an uninhibited delivery. Shipp immediately dives into the trio setting with "Cosmo," which opens with Michael Bisio
's reference to Miles Davis
' "So What," before scattering the orthodoxy into his signature Shipp-isms of dense clusters and hammered blocks. All of which recall the same criticism once made about Thelonious Monk
"He plays wrong notes," which later was regarded as genius.
This trio is a fine starting place to step into the river that is Shipp's music. Besides long time collaborator Bisio, Shipp has reformed his trio adding drummer Newman Taylor Baker
. This disc, his last for Thirsty Ear, follows The Conduct Of Jazz
(2015). The music is flawlessly arranged from the Shipp solo to a chest pounding duo "Scramble Brain" between Bisio and Baker, and the ten trio pieces. "Microwave" takes its cues from Bernard Herrmann's soundtrack for the movie "Psycho," spoken in the deconstruction of this trio. "Mind Space" connects rattling disparate pieces with logic, and the quietness of "Void Of Sea" aches with a dense world-weariness. The signature piece of the recording is "Gravity Point," a Shipp vehicle packed with fevered runs and hairpin turns. Music metamorphoses from dissonance into harmony, through the unique vernacular that is Matthew Shipp.