A glance at pianist Matthew Shipp's discography reveals that small group work has long been a focus. Indeed in recent times one of the prime outlets for his artistry is his classic piano trio, which ranks among the pre-eminent outfits in modern jazz. The Conduct Of Jazz represents Shipp's twelfth release in the format. Although there has been gradual change in personnel over the yearsNewman Taylor Baker makes his debut on the drum stool alongside monster bassist Michael Bisio, replacing Whit Dickey -the familiar strengths are still evident: near telepathic interplay; ability to turn on a dime; robustly independent thought; instrumental virtuosity; and a willingness to subsume ego for the collective benefit.
Shipp in full flow is unmistakable a unique stylist who propounds his memorable mix of infectious motifs, glittering runs and avalanches of dense clusters. He presides over a rhythmic democracy, which often frees both bassist and drummer from the tyranny of time (though on occasion, as in the irresistible foot tapping "Blue Abyss," they all lock in together to thrilling effect). Otherwise Bisio enjoys near complete freedom, manifest in a torrent of oblique commentary comprising thickets of notes one minute, then spare resonance the next. Baker provides similarly astute asides, his fits and starts bringing openness and transparency. "Primary Form" heavily features the drummer, as it rotates between martial cadences with repeated pounding chords and Baker's explosive bursts of percussive color.
Although some of the themes are close cousins of previous Shipp constructs, that's not an issue as their function is to shape the container into which the new wine is poured. One such is the title track, which is one of the outright jazziest of Shipp's inventions. He spins variations off the insistent theme while Bisio walks his bass in time-honored fashion, swinging wildly. Of course there are some temporary digressions but for the most part they stay firmly in the pocket. Towards the end, Bisio shows his pedigree with a pizzicato solo which alternates between thrumming figures and emotional extemporization.
While some pieces are built around such nagging phrases, others sound more off the cuff. A case in point is the dramatic "Stream of Light," a piano solo full of dark ruminations, clipped notes, speech like inflections and song-like diversions. Another is the final "The Bridge Across" which in many ways is the highlight of an excellent disc which numbers highly among Shipp's trio offerings. It begins in three way dialogue, before freewheeling through many of the gambits which make the group so distinctive, to a lovely finish of croaky wavering arco accompanying the leader's lyrical piano.
Instinctive Touch; The Conduct of Jazz; Ball in Space; Primary Form; Blue Abyss; Stream of Light; The Bridge Across.
Matthew Shipp: piano; Michael Bisio: bass; Newman Taylor Baker: drums.