To say Matthew Shipp has been outspoken on the subject of “the jazz tradition” is an understatement. Considering this, the arrival of a Duke Ellington tribute album from Shipp made me really excited. Shipp doesn’t negate tradition; he never has. He simply regards it as what came before. Why shouldn’t the most inventive pianist of his generation pay tribute to the most inventive band leader and composer of the first half of the 20th century? Duke’s music isn’t going to go away; it was built to last. And that is an understatement too. It's also pliable enough to withstand every corruption Shipp exposes it to; he toys with every aspect of these standards, including the melodies themselves. The purity that Ellington intended still shines through; and I'm sure that's Shipp's intention as well. He wouldn't bother messing with this music if it wilted before the modern world.
An early standout track is “In A Sentimental Mood,” where Shipp introduces the song in a very unsentimental fashion, simply playing the melody as straight as possible – forcing the melody to carry itself, without any overwrought emotion behind it. Bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey play freely underneath, alternately supporting and distracting attention from the piano. The melody gets continuously chopped up and reassembled until it is finally restated straightforwardly at the end.
On “Take The 'A' Train” Shipp plays a few bars of the intro, then promptly lays out over the crazed rhythm section for awhile – then repeats the same bit. He does this once again before playing out the rest of the head. The subway car turns bullet train quickly with the melody line colliding furiously with improvisational flurries of notes. Telepathic fury rules this ride as all three musicians move as a single unit, eventually pulling into the station as the melody returns to its original form over Bisio and Dickey's grinding brakes. It's an amazing track – probably the finest cover of this tune I've ever heard. Absolutely stellar.
Shipp's own “Tone Poem To Duke” sends him inside the piano to plunk a bit on this “He Loved Him Madly” from the post-everything school. Let's imagine your dog chewed up your haiku poetry assignment and you had to fold-and-tape it all back together until it resembled spitball origami. But somehow it turned out to be beautiful instead of a mess. Shipp takes a solo turn at “Prelude To A Kiss,” which is reverently (but freely) played. Again, the song is torn apart and reassembled carefully – but this time I'm reminded more of Monk's approach to the Ellington songbook. Whether this is intentional or not, it's a beautiful interpretation that is successful on every level.
“Sparks” is an intense blowout showcase for the trio, relaxed and intense simultaneously – the collective confidence level rising through the roof. Bisio and Dickey are downright terrifyingly cohesive cohorts as they support and prod Shipp as he levitates above the keyboard. The disc ends on “Solitude,” which begins with Shipp playing the melody relatively straight with Bisio and Dickey freaking out underneath. The bands rides a repeated descending chord progression near the end (before the head is repeated) like it's their last chance at redemption. And then they fly into the sky like we knew they would.
Great record! I also love his cd with Bisio and Mtt Maneri on Relative Pitch. Shipp is in amazing form this year.
MAT Maneri. Typing mistake.
Indeed, a pianist at the top of hits form, as he has been for a number of years now.
I plan to be reviewing his two-CD set with Ivo Perelman: "Callas" - yes, the soprano Maria Callas - as part of a Perelman round-up. Another review to complete before then.
Another great release from Shipp on RogueArt as well: "Our Lady of the Flowers"
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