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Matthew Shipp: To Duke

Mark Corroto By

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Unlocking the language of an avant-garde musician like Matthew Shipp can be a tough task for those new to creative music, and also for those new to the pianist's approach. He has developed a method of music making that draws from classical music, free jazz, and the energies of electronic music. With a discography pushing into the hundreds, where to start and what to listen to is always the question. A musical detective might start with his early recordings with the saxophonists David S. Ware, Rob Brown, and Ivo Perelman, or maybe his two attention grabbing trio records Circular Temple (Infinite Zero, 1994) and Critical Mass (213 Music, 1995).

Perhaps the better way to step into the river that is Shipp's music is to listen to him playing standards. It is a listening approach that works with other artists, like Thelonious Monk playing "Just A Gigolo" or Anthony Braxton's Charlie Parker Project. Shipp's tribute to the music of Duke Ellington is a fine introduction to the pianist's vocabulary.

The disc opens with the very brief piano solo "Prelude To Duke," before a storm cell breaks free with "In A Sentimental Mood." Bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey, two frequent collaborators, deliver a maelstrom of sound and energy behind the calm of Shipp's rendition of the melody. The push-and-pull between piano and rhythm section spotlights a favored technique that juxtaposes the discordant with the harmonious. Listening to the melody imbedded into the storm gives the ear sanctuary, but also the ability for expansion. Shipp is keen to enlarge the music, his own and here, that of Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. "Satin Doll" begins innocently enough with piano and bass, then the music is deconstructed into Shipp-speak. The melody is dissected into chopped pieces that flair into new directions, only to come back together throughout the piece.

"Take The A Train" is played almost as if Shipp were a DJ pulling musical samples from a burning building and "Mood Indigo" conjures images of black-and-white news reels with its ragtime take. Shipp's version of "Prelude To A Kiss," played solo, is a well crafted and sentimental take on the Johnny Hodges signature piece.

What you can gather here is that Shipp is a connoisseur of melody. The trio suggests that if you want to listen to Duke, then buy Ellington records. But if you want to magnify the experience, then try some new music.

Track Listing: Prelude To Duke; In A Sentimental Mood; Satin Doll; I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good; Take The A Train; Mood Indigo; Dickey Duke; Tone Poem For Duke; Prelude To A Kiss; Sparks; Solitude.

Personnel: Matthew Shipp: piano; Michael Bisio: double bass; Whit Dickey: drums.

Title: To Duke | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Rogue Art


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