Matthew Shipp



Harmonic Disorder
by Troy Collins


One of today's most iconic artists, pianist Matthew Shipp has fearlessly ventured into numerous genres in search of new means of expression. From stark chamber-like acoustic settings to electronic collaborations with DJs, programmers, and hip-hop artists, Shipp has defied simple categorization. His previous recording for Thirsty Ear, Piano Vortex (2007) found him returning to the acoustic piano trio format with bassist Joe Morris and drummer Whit Dickey.


Harmonic Disorder is the empathetic trio's sophomore effort, taking up where the previous session left off, moving further into dense, challenging territory.

Shipp's chromatic lyricism is incisive and focused on the angular opener "GNG," and rapturously unfettered on "Mr. JM" and "Zo Number 2." The introspective "Orb" finds him exuding abstract blues, while the pensive title track, bittersweet "Mel Chi 2," and moody "Compost" showcase his opulent abilities as a sensitive interpreter of ballads. The standards "There Will Never Be Another You" and "Someday My Prince Will Come" are given stirring treatments, the former a quicksilver abstraction, the later a rousing deconstruction.

Establishing further ties to the tradition, the playfully Monkish "Roe" and the Ellingtonian swagger of "Light" reveal Shipp's debt to the masters as they regale with a vivacious swing that is both adventurous and accessible.

Over the past few years, guitarist Joe Morris has been doubling more frequently on his second axe, contrabass. While Morris' earliest efforts on upright were entirely serviceable, his recent forays reveal the blossoming of a truly expressive technique, as exemplified by his radiant arco work on "Quantum Waves" and plangent pizzicato on the dark title track.

Rekindling their telepathic rapport, Dickey reprises his mid-nineties role as Shipp's key drummer. His tastefully restrained playing on the previous trio session has been augmented by a slightly more fervid approach, as he recalls the days spent alongside Shipp and bassist William Parker in tenor saxophonist David S. Ware's powerhouse quartet. Dickey is a versatile performer; "Zo Number 2" features a roiling, extended excursion of thunderous excess, whereas "Orb" showcases his subtle brush work.

Another brilliant installment in a growing and varied discography, Harmonic Disorder is a bracing interpretation of the classic piano trio and continuing proof of Shipp's abilities as a composer and improviser of the highest order.




Harmonic Disorder
by John Sharpe


Following up the excellence of Piano Vortex (Thirsty Ear, 2007) was always going to be a challenge for pianist Matthew Shipp. But with the trio's Harmonic Disorder, a slight change of emphasis has avoided the pitfalls of the changing same, while retaining the previous set's rhythmic and melodic accessibility. Whereas Vortex majored on eight pieces, the trio's wares here are spread over 14 tracks, with only three cuts breaking the five minute barrier, in a program a shade under 55 minutes. With so much concentrated into small capsules like musical haikus, there is a lot to absorb and much pleasure to be had in doing so.

Sometime guitarist Joe Morris handles bass duties with aplomb, whether walking assertively on the more traditional pieces, or wielding his bow masterfully for the atmospheric drone of "When the Curtain Falls on the Jazz Theater" and the plaintive deep yowls answering Shipp's repeated patterns on "Quantum Waves." Morris perhaps even garners a tribute on the piano and bass duet of "Mr. JM" which, after a garrulous opening, resolves into flowing lines before hyper Morse-code repetitions draw the piece to a close.

Drummer Whit Dickey, another long time musical associate of Shipp's, dating back to their tenure in David S. Ware's classic quartet, is more unobtrusive, apart from his polyrhythmic workout on "Zo Number 2." A close ear to his contribution reveals mesmerizing cymbals patterns sizzled throughout this disc.

With so many pieces, the spotlight falls as much on Shipp the composer as on the pianistic fireworks. Short piano motifs, deployed in a variety of ways, are the frequent building blocks. Sometimes they develop into jazzy themes such as the rollicking straight-ahead charge of the opening "GNG "or the driving "Roe" and the knotty "Zo Number 2." At other times they provide the superstructure against which others improvise, such as the two "Mel Chi" pieces, where the common denominator is a piano motif repeated with minimal variation; gruff arco bass sawing to atmospheric effect on the first and scuttling cymbals on the second.

Elsewhere the motifs act as the catalysts which crystallize the pieces around them, as with the two bars of melody at the heart of the title track, or the ascending pattern which concludes the fractured blues of "Orb."

But it's not all about Shipp, as two standards make the playlist. Recent concert favorite "Someday My Prince Will Come" splices the theme with heavy left hand chords in rippling semi abstraction, while "There Will Never Be Another You" appears as a densely rolling carpet over pulsing free bass and drums.

All-in-all a worthy follow up and already a candidate for this year's best of lists.




Harmonic Disorder
by Mark Corroto


Like his very good friend and sometimes bassist William Parker, pianist Matthew Shipp is well-versed in the outer reaches of jazz and the inner circle of free improvisation. And like his friend, he has produced a more conventional jazz trio recording, written in his own distinctive handwriting.

Beginning with Piano Vortex (Thirsty Ear, 2007), a new trio of Shipp with Whit Dickey (drums) and (guitarist and now more often) bassist Joe Morris emerged. As the self-titled disc ended, it seemed to signal a reexamination of bebop with "To Vitalize." The trio picks up where it left off on Harmonic Disorder with the opening "GNG." Morris and Dickey's infections groove allows Shipp's single-note right hand to play a slightly off-center brand of swing.

His 'follow me' approach is repeated on the two standards "There Will Never Be Another You" and "Someday My Prince Will Come," where he references the melody to stay with the roadmap, but sometimes driving the car in a zigzag pattern, or sometimes even backwards. "Prince" utilizes huge chords juxtaposed against simple notes, while "Another You" skips along the surface in a high speed (almost-stride piano) manner.

The trio is completely sympathetic with Shipp's compositions. Dickey has been the pianist's drummer of choice, along with those of David S. Ware and Shipp, since the 1990s. Morris has recorded with the pianist often in recent years. Here, the trio sticks to shorter pieces—the longest track, "Zo Number 2," is only slightly longer than six minutes.

But don't think this isn't a heavy disc; Shipp can make big statements within short time frames. His hammering "Roe" grabs two hands-full of keys as he applies his version of piano rolfing, and either the piano will need a tuning after this workout or he's realigned the keys. The dramatic effect is exhaustingly impressive.

Maybe the better studies here, though, are the simpler tracks—"Orb," where Shipp's thoughts are almost audible as he chooses notes or the low-end, and "Quantum Waves," allowing Morris to mind the store as Dickey accents the cymbals and Shipp chases a rising tone.

Shipp's Vortex piano trio sets the bar quite high, and it might become the new standard in which the next wave of jazz trios will be judged.



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