There are numerous titles in Matthew Shipp’s catalog that speak directly to the nature of the music: By the Law of Music, Harmonic Disorder, Elastic Aspects, The Conduct of Jazz, and of course Expansion, Power, Release. Here, on the newest recording with his recent trio combination of bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker, The Unidentifiable represents that somewhat mystical, intangible connective tissue between Shipp, Bisio, and Baker. From the opening of “Blue Transport System,” the album speaks in Shipp’s bespoke musical language. Yet, seemingly more than any of their past albums, this trio date is more a collective performance, with each player given space to explore and highlight their particular creative voice. “Dark Sea Negative Charge” opens up a chasm of moody, abstract balladry. Shipp relaxes into his improvisations, as Bisio plays a series of complex replies that highlights the depth of their relationship. It’s an admirably challenging piece, one of several here to reward close listening. “Virgin Psych Space 2,” prefaced by Baker’s solo “Virgin Psych Space 1,” is a similarly fascinating piece, driven by Bisio’s heavy, funky bass. Where 2019’sSignature seemed to lean into the trio’s open, swinging side, The Unidentifiable feels more reflective, perhaps more emotionally aligned with Shipp’s 60th. The finale, “New Heaven and New Earth,” is a sweeping performance packed into a brisk ten minutes. Toward the end, Shipp and Baker play a superb duo, amplifying Shipp’s percussive approach and Baker’s harmonic playing, each taking the opportunity to subvert their traditional roles. Nobody plays the piano’s low-end like Shipp, and he goes all out here, opening the door wide for Bisio’s return. It’s just one small moment in this entire grand album, emblematic of the invisible ties that bind these three players together.
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