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Matthew Shipp Trio: Piano Song

Matthew Aquiline By

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It's difficult to encapsulate pianist Matthew Shipp's inimitable musical vision and approach exclusively with words. The elusiveness of his aesthetic stems from its malleability: Shipp retains his unwavering objective of unfettered expression, yet never fully eschews tradition, yielding an unrivaled brand of stirring music. A consummate innovator, Shipp's singular musical vocabulary has matured and diversified over decades of enterprising music, spanning a multitude of genres and musical ensembles.

2016 was a particularly fruitful year for Shipp, with releases such as Cactus (Northern Spy) with Bobby Kapp and Live at Okuden (ESP-Disk') with Mat Walerian and Hamid Drake showcasing his versatile contribution to the avant-garde idiom. Continuing this series of releases into 2017, Shipp has reunited with the most recent incarnation (bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker) of his adventurous trio for Piano Song, the follow-up to 2015's The Conduct of Jazz (Thirsty Ear).

Piano Song is not only noteworthy for augmenting Shipp's radical revamping of the traditional jazz trio, but also because it marks his final release for the Thirsty Ear label. Concluding 18 years of transformative music for the cutting-edge imprint, Piano Song captures the crux of Shipp's music—a sweeping display of sound intended to galvanize both the body and soul. Fortunately, Shipp's association with the label will not be totally silenced, as he will continue curating the label's "Blue Series."

The album opens with an introspective solo piece, "Links," that demonstrates Shipp's sensitive method of portraying human emotion through the piano. The inventive attack of bassist Michael Bisio and experienced rhythmic senses of veteran drummer Newman Taylor Baker are first discerned on the post-bop-tinged "Cosmopolitan"—a track where tradition lurks in the shadows, but never inhibits rampant development.

Throughout the album, there's never the sense that these musicians are attempting to rewrite the long-standing tenets of the jazz trio format, but rather deconstruct and reorganize its facets to better suit their musical idiosyncrasies. Each player prods at his instrument to expose uncharted timbres, as exemplified on the aptly titled "Blue Desert," where Bisio's weary bowing and Shipp's bluesy vamp mingle over a distant shaker. Moments like these remind us that jazz, as developed as it is, still brims with possibility.

A testament to their like-mindedness, the trio harbors an impeccable degree of cohesion, especially in terms of dynamics. On "Flying Carpet," Baker's hypnotic breakbeat parallels the vibrancy of Shipp's chaotic, yet cathartic flurry of block chords before unwinding for a subdued resolution. The unbridled improvisation that pervades Piano Song is derived from the exploitation of intuition; moments of brilliance arise from compact musical ideas Shipp sets forth, such as the simplistic, jaunty piano themes that anchor "Microwave" and "Gravity Point."

A comprehensive album, the delicate side of Shipp's playing is thoroughly documented, with sparse tracks like the unsettled "Void of Sea" and solo piano piece "The Nature Of" exhibiting classical sensibilities. The concluding "Piano Song" is an obvious highlight as well, with resourceful brush playing and moaning bass motifs producing a melancholy backdrop for Shipp to elaborate upon.

Overall, Piano Song is further evidence of Shipp's peerless ability to exude all feeling towards testing the limits of his instrument. As a modern musician whose extensive body of ambitious work secures him a position in the upper echelons of jazz, the experience of listening to Matthew Shipp's music will eternally transcend prose attempting to define it.

Track Listing: Links; Cosmopolitan; Blue Desert; Silence Of; Flying Carpet; Scrambled Brain; Microwave; Mind Space; Void of Sea; The Nature Of; Gravity Point; Piano Song.

Personnel: Matthew Shipp: piano; Michael Bisio: bass; Newman Taylor Baker: drums.

Title: Piano Song | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Thirsty Ear Recordings


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