Matthew Shipp


Matthew Shipp, "Harmonic Disorder"
by Charles Ballas, blog


Harmonic Disorder is the latest release from pianist/composer Matthew Shipp on the Thirsty Ear recording label’s Blue Series, a subsidiary dedicated to adventurous and creative modern music.

Matthew Shipp’s music is highly idiosyncratic and simultaneously derivative of the forbearers of modern Be-Bop and out-jazz piano. Throughout his career Mr. Shipp has forged a totally unique improvisational syntax as the modern extension in the continuum of history’s most influential jazz pianists such as Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Paul Bley, and Cecil Taylor. Certain elements from the aforesaid appear in Matthew Shipp’s playing, such as dense tonal clusters, use tri-tones, substitutions, and twelve-tone scales.

However, Mr. Shipp’s skills in composition and improvisation are uniquely his own and do not in the least rely on the mere ‘mimicry’ of past players. Joining Mr. Shipp for this session is bassist Joe Morris, and drummer Whit Dickey, completing the same lineup from the acclaimed 2005 recording Piano Vortex.

The album opens with an original composition entitled “gng”, with a head whose intervals sound as if they could belong to a Thelonious Monk composition/solo, but retain such an exclusive execution on behalf of Mr. Shipp that they sound wholly original and modern.

The band plays a solid swing from beginning to end maintaining a high degree of intensity and momentum while the next four minutes are opened up for an inspiring piano solo complete with tastefully executed comps, and minimal tension enhancing drum fills, and a walking base line that appears to intuitively “interact” with the piano solo instead of merely following chord progressions. The trio then seamlessly returns to the head of the song thus creating a refreshing compositional symmetry.

Following “gng’ is the trio’s interpretation of the standard “There Will Never Be Another You”, deconstructed almost beyond recognition but still retaining some semblance of the original melody and played with an intense swing pulse. The group’s rendition of “Someday My Prince will Come,” a standard that has been played by a multitude of jazz pianists including Dave Brubeck, Bill Evans, Art Lande, and Oscar Peterson, is both hauntingly beautiful and inspiring.

Harmonic Disorder is the most enjoyable recording I’ve had the privilege of hearing in the last year (that is the last 365 days, not the three-week-old 2009). In its entirety the record contains everything from straight-ahead 2 & 4 swing, lush ballades, beautiful minor chord dirges, and the most expressive use of twelve notes I’ve experienced since Cecil Taylor.

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