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Monday, March 17, 2008

Matthew Shipp - Right Hemisphere (RogueArt, 2008) ****½

Matthew Shipp (piano) and Rob Brown (alto sax) have played a lot together before, and released some great duo recordings, and Brown, Whit Dickey (drums) and Joe Morris (bass) have performed a lot together too (and recorded at least on all Dickey's albums), but they never released an album as a quartet. That's what we get here. The title itself is a paradox of sorts. Shipp explains in the liner notes that the right hemisphere is "the intuitive side of the brain, the god part of the brain, the part that processes in wholes not in linear sequences, the part that is out of time and rooted in eternity". Now, saying that, and claiming that as the underlying process for the album is very much a left hemisphere thing to do, rooted in the rational, part of the conceptual. Hence the paradox. And the music reflects that paradox. The concept for the 11 tracks are pre-discussed, abstractly without rehearsal, yet the performance results from the musicians' improvisation on it, interacting and creating the concept together. In most of the tracks, Shipp is one of the most decisive factors in the overall direction of the piece, setting the tone and the atmosphere, yet without taking leadership, easily offering the lead voice to Brown, whose unbelievably strong emotional playing is a pleasure to hear. Shipp is a true master in getting the best out of his band-mates, and not only on this album, even to the extent that he is absent on two tracks. And that works well too : Brown, Morris and Dickey unleash all their skills on "Falling In", and then you think you've heard some strong emotinal playing, until you hear the short piano solo ballad on which Shipp demonstrates his sensitivity. But the quartet goes way beyond pure emotions, creating art for the sake of art, searching novelty and pattern-breaking approaches in order to get this new expressiveness, this new sound. It's avant-garde in that sense, but with a high emotional component, as can be heard on "Hyperspace", but especially on "Lava". The last track "Red In Gray" is an absolute beauty, a mid-tempo improvisation, still agitated, but less nervous, more coherent, more soulful too, than some of the other more abstract tracks on the CD. "Pent-up pensiveness erupting like into volcanic tides of overflowing Lava smothering breathing swinging hot drum solo deep within the core where always this earth is alive slipping ever so gently Red In Gray elegantly reuniting us with the flesh where one barely feels the blood as it flows thru the ashes back into our hearts warming our bones", that's how Steve Dalachinsky describes those two tracks, and that's pretty close to what I thought, yet a little more right hemisphere.