Matthew Shipp / Rob Brown: Then Now

John Sharpe BY

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Matthew Shipp / Rob Brown: Then Now
Then Now presents a reprise of both pianist Matthew Shipp's and alto saxophonist Rob Brown's debut recording, a duet entitled Sonic Explorations (CJR, 1988). Though they have occasionally collaborated since—last heard together on Magnetism(s) (Rogue Art, 2017) alongside bassist William Parker—this is their first album as a twosome since Blink Of An Eye (No More, 1997). With Shipp so frequently in tandem with Brazilian saxophonist Ivo Perelman, it is almost a shock to hear him in this format in different company.

In the interim the standing of both has grown. One of the reasons Brown is such a remarkable talent is how little he uses repeated motifs to develop his narrative, rather unfolding ideas in a continuously renewing flow. Ally that to a pungent bittersweet tone full of edgy emotion and you have a clue as to why he has been the go to saxophonist for Parker's groups for the last thirty years.

Shipp has become recognized as one of the most distinctive and creative pianists working in avant jazz. In contrast to Brown, reiterations play a major role in the pianist's expression, albeit without defining his entire approach, alternating as he does between rhythmic stomps, thickly voiced runs and delicate bucolic passages, guided by an inscrutable internal logic.

Of the eight cuts, credited to both principals, the dramatic yet restrained "Then Now #5" is a fifty-nine-second solo for Shipp, while Brown is unaccompanied on the angst ridden ballad "Then Now #7." Elsewhere they react to each other's moves in ways more than the sum of the two parts. In "Then Now #3," Shipp maintains an opposition through his switch to staccato accents when Brown turns to undulating ululations, fomenting tension and an uneasy undercurrent. But in "Then Now #4" the pair synchronize, snagging simultaneously on an insistent note before taking separate paths. Just two examples among many of a bountiful relationship which constantly defies second guessing.

Unexpected rejoinders, supercharged dialogue, no hint of rote. Thirty plus years in the making, yet freshly conceived.

Track Listing

Then Now #1 - #8.


Matthew Shipp: piano; Rob Brown: saxophone, alto.

Album information

Title: Then Now | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Rogue Art

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