Monday, March 16, 2009

Matthew Shipp & Mark O'Leary - Labyrinth (FMR, 2009) ****½

Without making too many concessions to their own personal styles, pianist Matthew Shipp and electric guitarist Mark O'Leary find each other quite well on this duo release of fully improvised pieces. Both musicians have a very broad scope, ranging from more rock-influenced fusion, over traditional jazz, over free to avant-garde and back again. What they demonstrate here is just music. Hard to classify. They interact with notes, often touching upon subgenres, but without falling into known patterns, just driven forward by the thoughts inspired by the other. Some moments are close to romanticism, others close to fusion, or modern jazz, or modern classical, but just little hints, like doors opened yet not entered, weaving interesting musical textures, often rapid and nervous, which seems to be O'Leary's normal musical state, and one which works well with Shipp's dense percussive style, sometimes slow and precise, shying away from clear melody, yet lyrical all the way. Even if the first piece is very abstract, with the two musicians trying to find common ground, on the second piece, "Secret Miracle", they start echoing each other, slowing down the tempo, and coming up with solutions that sound pre-meditated, but because they are not, the music keeps this kind of floating openness that is hard to grasp or to describe. The unity is enhanced by the two musicians sticking to their lead instruments in their prime use, Shipp playing acoustic throughout, once in a while directly plucking his strings, O'Leary playing his electric guitar, mostly very soft and low-toned, with lots of sustain, and extreme clarity of tone, except on one track, "The House Of Asterion", on which the sound is more distorted, speedy delivery becoming essential, and when Shipp creates a magnificent and dramatic repetitive phrase, O'Leary joins whole-heartedly, drops the theme for some dark improv only to come back to the theme later, changing and exchanging ideas and moods without losing focus. Another highlight of the album are "Mosaic", a slow and eery piece, that evolves quite interestingly, also in tone, despite its coherence.

The album is dedicated to and inspired by Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges, whose approach to literature was quite unique, light and playful on the surface, unintelligible and profound in its underlying meaning, deliberately disorienting readers by leading them into the contradictions of rationality and reality itself, full of surreal images, dreamlike and nightmarish. Both musicians do an excellent job at capturing some of these characteristics. Borges was interested in mirrors, in doppelgänger, symmetries and asymmetries, and Shipp and O'Leary reflect this quite well, soloing together - it's hard to say who is leading who and who plays background for the other, speaking with one voice, only doing different things. Some tracks, such as "Coptic Night", sound composed, just for its almost telepathic interplay. Very ambitious, very original, very succesful.

Listen to Coptic Night


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© stef

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lost interest in Shipp a decade ago.Nothing new here...more of the same...


Bill