Review by Lyn Horton, All About Jazz
The physical universe and spirit are indivisibly connected. To explain the dynamics that unifies them requires a language accessible to human perceptions. One of those languages is music.
Matthew Shipp has elected to reveal how the universe and spirit interact musically in more ways than one. The endeavor to come out of a period where he took on the task by himself has assumed the form of a trio recording, Piano Vortex (Thirsty Ear, 2007), on which he is joined by Joe Morris on bass and Whit Dickey on drums.
The tight design of this CD, right down to the sequence and titles of the tracks, sends a message of the present tense. Each track explains what is going on in the music as it happens. Shipp has taken the parts and arranged them according to his sense of evolution, just as each piece that the trio plays has an evolution of its own.
The interplay among the instruments is beautifully balanced. Although the piano is up front, the players have equal say in what transpires. The lightness of Shipp’s hands is notable from the very beginning. In the first and title track, his fingers trip across the keys in fluid arrays of erudite tunefulness that can break down into elemental vagaries. He locks into a downright groove in “Keyswing” and “To Vitalize.” But his capacity to construct abstractions and his predilection for a heavy chordal ostinato and phrase repetition shine as well, exemplified by “Sliding Through Space.” Shipp’s only solo statement, on “Slips Through the Fingers,” marks a stretch when the whirlwind of music can begin to calm down.
Sometimes the sound that Shipp and Morris produce cannot be divorced, as in “Nooks and Corners.” At other times, the complementary nature between the two is stark, demonstrated in the first measures of “The New Circumstance,” when Morris uses his bow. Morris widens Shipp’s sound. He can fill in the spaces that Shipp leaves open so that the two come across like different personalities of one instrument. His pizzicati are detailed; the reverberations of the strings are controlled. His bowing can echo the mood of the piano and transform into its contrail when the piano shuts down.
Whit Dickey has an inexhaustible lightness of touch without which Shipp and Morris would lack completion. Dickey underlines whatever the piano and the bass do. His strokes vary in coloration within certain limits. Whether he swooshes the skins and cymbals with brushes or dryly strikes them with sticks, the sound that comes forth is always muted, nonetheless precise. Any rhythm Dickey keeps locks into the way the music flows, rather than becoming the driving force behind it.
When asked why the titles for his songs and albums are sometimes associated with the “physical” world, Shipp refers to Hermetic philosophy in his explanation: “As above, so below…the outside is stimulated by the inside…the universe is one…whatever is up in space is also inside of you…” The music of Piano Vortex can convince anyone of that.
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