By Paul Acquaro
The Reward is an aptly titled recording. For one, the recording, an LP from the French label RogueArt, which has been instrumental in releasing several recordings from the New York based pianist this year alone, is being released to coincide with Matthew Shipp's 60th birthday. Then, it is also Shipp's first LP only release since Sonic Exploration, a duo with Rob Brown, released in 1988. So while the medium is not exactly the most important thing, it does add a special touch with a limited 500 copy run.
Something else that makes the album special is the liner notes by NYC poet Steve Dalchinsky who passed away last year. Shipp and Dalchinsky released several works together over the years, including the book Logos and Language: a Post-Jazz Metaphorical Dialogue (RogueArt), as well as the album Phenomena Of Interference (Hopscotch). It is nice to read Dalchinsky's free flowing homage, here are his thoughts after listening to the album through:
"as we approach the final track on side 4 of this, Rogueart’s first doubleWhich brings us to the music, for which I will start at the beginning, first track, side 1 of this, RogueArt's first double LP ... which begins with gravitas, a ringing, deep, and sensuous chord. It is dark, heavy, and repeats, the melody that it brackets, a sprinkling and light figure, descends deliberately downwards. This track, 'Angel Whispering,' sets a mood, expectations, and gives us a grand entry into this impressive recording. The following 'Rhythm Hymns' builds from the first track, based around some similar (but evolving) themes, it also introduces a more rhythmic impulse, adding motion to the beautiful but more static opener. As we get 'Original Beauty,' the third track, the world has opened up a bit more. Here the melodic statement is more flowing. A somewhat lilting classically charged theme spreads out across the keyboard. Then 'Deeper Energy,' the fourth track is a wave, a cascading set of runs that crash into tremulous tonal clusters, then subside.
LP, we are struck / awed once again by Shipp’s ever expanding worlds & the
journey we have just experienced as the needle passes the final groove slides
toward the end of the galaxy & is gently lifted up by the anti-gravitational pull
we have just experienced > this stretching/contracting galaxy of often hymnal
gentleness & extreme exploding nebulae / a true post-biblical piano genesis ..."
I do not want to linger on each song, which can so easily happen in a review of album like this. There are many nooks and crannies to discover, Shipp's playing rapidly - imperceptibly - switches between from austere and lush, like a pendulum of emotion and energies. For example, side 2, track one 'Instinctive' jerks the listener along, it's stop and start harmonic rhythm is jarring. The melodic figures erupt in units, firing off as one approaches them. Then, the follow up, 'The Saccharine Principal,' is indeed a bit more sweet, but just a bit. There is sentimentality in how the chords move, in the voicings, but it's not drippy and sticky, it's more like a Lindt 85% dark chocolate bar than Hershey's milk chocolate: sophisticated, dry, and just sugary enough. Side 2 also offers us the title track. It is built on short flurries of melody, abrupt octave jumps, and dense patches of fast moving chords. The track is logical but fragmentary, and ultimately a satisfying energetic piece.
Sides 3 and 4 continues the journey of emotions and style. 'Solitude of the Sun' on side 3 is, in a sense, sunny. Solar flares shoot from the surface of this shimmering star. Pointed and precise the music is a synesthetic feast of bright yellows and sumptuous reds for the ears. 'Not a Sepulcher' is no slouch of a follow up. Akin to the energies of the previous track, it offers its own darker color palette. Side 4, last track, 'Jazz Agitator' is a wonderful closing track. It certainly has its jazz elements to it - voicings pop out, with the inimitable angular attacks that characterizes much of Shipp's work. Quick runs, punctuated with sharp chords and precisely placed emphasis, the devices that Shipp uses are artfully arranged, set next to each other with purpose, each one building on the last and suggesting the next.
Now, as Dalchinsky said, the "needle passes the final groove slides toward the end of the galaxy". The Reward is a sound adventure, the four movements are something you can come back anytime and enjoy freshly, always discovering new facets. Begin anywhere and be enveloped in the musical worlds that Shipp creates.
The Reward is certainly a nice birthday gift ... for us!
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