Matthew Shipp: Piano Sutras
Piano Sutras came out over two months ago, and the desire to write about it has been in the back of my mind the whole time. Part of the reason it's taken me awhile to sit down and write is the trouble finding the words to describe why I like it.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, Matthew Shipp's piano playing, in recent years especially, always flows with a sure sense of direction, especially his solo performances (of which Piano Sutras is one).
The opening title track unfolds with a series of cascading lines that feel contemplative but clear in their execution. "Space Bubble" begins with a series of short lines (or broken chords) that hang in the air, creating suspense for what will follow, and he develops pensive lines that do not disappoint.
Even in the pieces with blasts of thunderous low notes with a sustain pedal ("Uncreated Light"), they aren't the whole thought but authoritative blasts that lead to quiet lines. There is more low end rumbling than Shipp has done on recent albums and he uses it as strong punctuation here and in "Angelic Brain Cell." In "The Indivisible," he left hand stays at the bottom of the keyboard, emphasizing and echoing the melody in the right hand.
On Shipp's Piano Vortex album, one track featured a brief quote from John Coltrane's "Giant Steps." On the current album, Trane's classic gets a whole track, sort of. He plays the melody, slowly almost like a ballad, and stops. It comes off more like an interlude between tracks. Later, he also offers a brief take on Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti," which the saxophonist infamously played with Miles Davis in a recording where the horns just repeated the melody while the rhythm section got more obtuse. Shipp reshapes the theme, almost giving it some funky syncopation, keeping it to just over two minutes in length.
The piano pedals can be heard during a couple of songs on the album, getting held and released. Some might consider this a technical defect, but with Shipp's approach to the keyboard (using the whole range of it, in all forms of consonance and dissonance, light and darkness), it reminds these ears of being able to hear the pads of Sonny Rollins' tenor sax opening and closing on his albums. It's a sign of quality.
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