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After a series of daring, sometimes surprising, discs for Thirsty Ear over the last eight years, Matthew Shipp comes forth with what might be his most straightforward, simply enjoyable album. Taking the rich resonance of the piano and the fertile history of the piano trio under his arm, Shipp has made an album that eclipses divisions of "out and "tradition, while standing firmly within his own repertoire.
Part of what makes Piano Vortex work on different levels at once is the strength of the assembled group. Shipp's associations with Whit Dickey and Joe Morris stretch back nearly to the beginning of his career. That Morris is heard here on double-bass, rather than his more customary electric guitar, is, at last, beside the point. While Morris has been in the unfortunate position of growing as a bassist in front of an audience that already knew him as a masterful musician, here he at last sounds in his own on the upright.
Shipp's own angular playing is softened for this session, the edges rounded, in a way comparable to Monk's progression over the years. The eight tracks rely on structure, but not on stated themes, managing to feel at once exploratory and familiar. The group stretched out a bit morebut not radically soat their Aug. 27, 2007 release party at New York's The Blue Note. They played one long piece, but following much of the mood of the album: Dickey's light, fleeting brushwork or muted rolls and Morris in the middle, matching Shipp's quick lines. The bass and drums seemed to play tag team with the piano, spinning off Shipp's repetitions and then reducing them to metered solos. Shipp's proclivitiessmall melodies, hymns and nursery rhymesstill peeked through but, as on the album, in a manner palatable to Blue Note's dinner crowd.
Track Listing: Piano Vortex; Key Swing; The New Circumstance; Nooks and Corners; Sliding Through Space; Quivering With Speed; Slips Through the Fingers; To Vitalize.
Personnel: Matthew Shipp: piano; Joe Morris: bass; Whit Dickey: drums.