Matthew Shipp

Matthew Shipp Trio
Vortex, 17 February 2011,
London Jazz blogspot
review and drawing by Geoff Winston*

Very, very ... jazz; that was the overriding impression. Shipp's trio walloped the packed Vortex with two richly rewarding, high energy sets which wove obliquely in and out of the standards repertoire.

Given Shipp's recent well-publicised diatribe one is tempted to say, too, "almost very Jarrett", because it was as though he was intent on confounding expectations. Many were expecting a left-field and abstract proposition, and, frankly, we got a lovely reinterpretation of what mainstream could mean – close in proximity to the way Keith Jarrett can conceive his music and present it, but with a specifically Shipp cast to it.

Both sets were straight through, non-stop journeys in which Shipp built dense and demanding improvisations with a rhythm section with whom he shared a telepathic rapport. They've played on and off together for getting on for twenty years and this paid off - each was stretched - no coasting and no hesitation. From a quiet, yet angular piano passage, bassist Michael Bisio joined with restraint, then drummer Whit Dickey came in really tight and they took off in a well-meshed, almost mainstream flow - "almost" keeps cropping up, because, despite the homage to the repertoire, it was a consistently idiosyncratic take, which maintained a freshness, eschewing any hint of complacency.

Shipp's rocking, stroking arm action seems to lift complex, pattering runs from the keyboard, but also the convincingly military-style marching chords of "Johnny Comes Marching Home." Shipp would drop his head right down, spectacles off, Miles-style, in concentration, and Dickey, with torso virtually static, also adopted a head down posture as his arms did the work, whether quietly on cymbals or a powering tempo in synch with Bisio's physical, hands-on technique.

Bisio hammered his bass so hard at one point that it raised the spectre of a forefinger flying across the room; his was such a varied way of working the bass - sometimes held at forty-five degrees as the bow both scraped and stroked the strings, at others he'd clasp it close, hunched over as he picked out the notes - reminiscent of David Izenzon's range with Ornette's trio.

Shipp drew the trio along, through textures and layers - dwelling for some time on 'Green Dolphin Street' and 'Tenderly' both just recognisable, yet unmistakeable, and - possibly - Coltrane's 'Spiritual', letting in reflections of Tyner, with whom Shipp shares affinities, then hints of Red Garland and Monk, even Dolo Coker.

This was a sophisticated set of reflections and explorations, with a serious dip into the jazz bag, and a sometimes playful selection - we had the marching song and a jig. It’s as though Shipp wanted to show how he could get to grips with the jazz legacy and reshape it in his own way. Different to Von Schlippenbach, for instance, whose spikey, nuanced approach exhibits more obvious light and shade, Shipp's concert was more outwardly ‘conventional’ if you took it at a superficial level, but very deeply worked and actually quite a major rethink of how to deal with the whole structure of the standards. It was quite an achievement. And very single-minded in a Trojan Horse kind of way!

By the end of the evening they were really moving assertively in a warmly flowing dialogue - more lava than river!

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