Matthew Shipp

Richard B. Kamins,
Step Tempest

Here are 2 distinct sessions by pianist Shipp, both recorded live, the first from April 2010 recorded in Troy, New York, featuring bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey; the second a solo session from Le Poisson Rouge in New York City.

One hears so many streams in Shipp's music. The Trio session, one continuous 52 minute set, has traces of Andrew Hill's music on the first 2 tracks. "The New Fact" moves from the full chords of the chorus to the thorny swing of the solo sections. Bisio matches the pianist's energy with insistent bass lines while Dickey colors with his excellent cymbal.

The piece shifts about 1/2 way through its 12+ minute run for a long bass solo that leads directly into the next piece "3 In 1" with a melody line that sounds like variations of "Rock-a-Bye Baby." Shipp mines the melody and chord changes for all their worth while Dickey drives incessantly from below.

The remaining 3 tracks include a pair of older pieces, "Circular Temple #1" and "Virgin Complex" plus a rousing reading of Billy Strayhorn's "Take The A Train." The first track listed starts slowly with impressionistic piano lines over swirling cymbals and fine bowed bass. As the piece moves forward, the intuitive interplay of the trio captures the listener's attention. At the end, the music slows down as Shipp reaches into the piano to pluck the strings before diving headlong into the Strayhorn classic.

There are moments where the thunderous chords resemble the sound of the train moving through the tunnel or a train idling in the station. Bisio's "walking" bass lines and Dickey's drive provide the propulsion for Shipp's musical travels. Disk 1 closes with "Virgin Complex", replete with the composer's rich two-handed piano phrases; when mixed with Bisio's bowed bass lines, the sound becomes a drone that rises and falls, coming to a close quietly and peacefully.

Disk 2 is Shipp solo and it is a 39 minute journey through his fertile imagination. Opening with the contemplative and thickly-chorded "4 D", the program moves on to explore the possibilities of "Fly Me to The Moon" (quite impressionistic) and beyond to the "bruising" chords and melodic explorations of "Whole Tone." The final 3 tracks of the CD all were featured on Shipp's 2005 solo CD, "One." "Module", at times, utilizes the sustain pedal to create a storm of sound that Shipp relieves with short burst of single-note lines.

That leads into the bluesy/boppish riff of "Gamma Ray" which the pianist uses a touchstone as he moves away into explorations of the chord changes, rhythmic and dynamic variations, yet always returning to the insistent theme. "Patmos" closes the disk, seemingly serving as an epilogue, again displaying Shipp's style of evolving melody lines and dynamic shifts. As with his 2010 solo CD, "4 D", this is a set to enjoy over and over because there is so much to absorb.

Taken together, "The Art of the Improviser" shows Matthew Shipp at his best as a leader, as a composer, and as a member of an ensemble. He creates music that draws one in on the strength of his ideas and his ability to translate them onto the keyboard.

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