Review by Thom Jurek, AllMusic
The last time we heard pianist Matthew Shipp in a solo setting was on two albums issued in 2010: the studio offering 4D on Thirsty Ear, and the Moscow concert recording, Creation Out of Nothing, for SolYd. Piano Sutras offers 13 relatively succinct slices of Shipp solo, offering a wide range of his musical thought as it takes place in the moment.
He approaches his compositions with purpose no matter the form they commence or resolve in. On "Cosmic Shuffle," his application of stride piano is stretched harmonically with modal and inverted cluster chords and contrapuntal arpeggiatic articulations that move off rhythm -- though never far enough for him to fully break cadence -- yet bring to bear a host of improvisational strategies to the form.
He celebrates Monk in "Cosmic Dust," wherein he uses a detailed harmonic base, then explores most of its tonal and dynamic possibilities while touching on moments of "'Round Midnight" and "Pannonica." This set is about scope and economy as much as it is about the right notes and chords. Check "Surface to a Curve," where the emphasis on empty or pregnant space adds additional weight to the notes.
The use of the piano's middle and upper registers in "Space Bubble" offers us an aspect of Shipp's character that is always evident, yet seldom discussed: the emotional commitment in his compositional method is equal to the rigorous intellect he applies in the architecture of creation.
This is one of his most tender and elegant ballads; it contains a sense of mystery at once profound and poetic. "Blue to a Point" uses the modal blues freely, shifting the phrasing of the 12-bar form to examine the tones inside individual chords in the structure, and reshuffle them note by note to create new ones that illuminate what was previously hidden -- perhaps even from him, initially.
The repetitive, evolving motif in "Angelic Brain Cell" confronts conventional notions of rhythm and timbre as it assembles, dissembles, and erects new scalar intrigues amid a series of dynamic tonal queries. There are two brief covers on the set as well, both of them played relatively "straight." First an artful reading of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps," which moves along the changes with a slippery use of the melody.
In "Nefertiti," Shipp employs the tune's mode to move through scaled arpeggios and highlight the accents in Wayne Shorter's lyric without much deviation from the line. As a whole, Piano Sutras is instructive; it showcases Shipp's musical dialogue with the listener as evolutionary. It offers an incremental glimpses into his process of discovery and evidence of his mastery when kinetically applying his finely tuned sense of hearing.
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