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Friday, October 19, 2007

Matthew Shipp - Piano Vortex (Thirsty Ear, 2007) ****

Matthew Shipp will hopefully be known in music history as the guy who helped to create genuine, authentic, artistic, emotional, adventurous and intellectually stimulating new forms of musical expression, one of the true great jazz musicians of the 90s and 00s. He is amongst others, the inventor of something called "jazztronica", and with his Thirsty Ear recordings, managed to move many other musicians into new realms of thought about what modern music could sound like. And possibly the best thing about him is, that he creates his music with sympathy for every other genre, just looking at what new possibilities they can offer, rather than looking down on them. He doesn't shy away from DJ's, dubbing, electronica, or even rap, and nor does he despise the tradition. And after some of the more "jazztronica" albums, he's now taking a new step with an acoustic piano trio, with Joe Morris on bass and Whit Dickey on drums. This is not his first piano trio, he's made records such as "Circular Temple" with William Parker and Whit Dickey, or "Multiplication Table" with Parker and Susie Ibarra, but this one is probably the most accessible of them, but without lowering his high standards. There are elements of blues and swing on the record, but also more romantic moments are to be found, but the structures and the interplay are definitely free jazz, full of openness and possibilities, which the band members fill in with inventivity and surprises. The title track clearly defines this approach : yes there is rhythm, the bass does walk, and the drums play a steady pattern, but Shipp manages to avoid a theme, even if what he plays is melodic and mostly within usual scales, sometimes creating slight patterns but as soon as he's played them, he leaves them somewhere in mid-air to pursue new ideas. And yes, he can be as bluesy as it gets, and the second track "Keyswing" is the closest he's ever come to mainstream jazz, and "To Vitalize" is a non-traditional reading of what is in essence a real boppish tune, and "Slips Through The Fingers" has a slightly romantic approach, but the rest is as exploratory as one might expect from Shipp. "Sliding Through Space" brings some eery sounds, with arco bass by Morris, thundering, menacing chords, almost cinematic in nature, creating suspense and restrained tension. "Quivering With Speed", expands on the tension, with especially Morris and Dickey propulsing the music forward, pushing Shipp into real unmapped territory. And that's the great thing about this music. It's accessible, in the sense that the trio uses known lyrical, melodic and rhythmic concepts to guide us along to some new places. It makes the journey lighter, but not less interesting, and at the end you feel you have reached a rewarding destination.


Jean Francois said...

Bonjour Stef,

That's what I like about Shipp. He challenges you in an intelligent way, yet never lowers his standards. A great musician.

Jean François