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Sunday, August 22, 2021

Matthew Shipp & William Parker - Re-Union (RogueArt, 2021) ****½

 By Sammy Stein

Matthew Shipp and William Parker are amongst the greatest musicians today and Re-Union is one of the best duo albums I have heard. Not that I was expecting anything less than high quality improvisation but the entire album is a discovery and even at the fifth listen, there was still much more to find.

My knowledge of Shipp is, I am ashamed to say, limited. Of course, I have heard some of his many recordings with master saxophone player Ivo Perelman but the only time I have seen him live, was at Cafe Oto and I had to leave because agreed to do to see Evan Parker, John Edwards and John Russell at The Vortex which is very close to Oto. William Parker I knew of as a Cecil Taylor sidesman of legend , and I had seen him with Peter Brötzmann. This album is a chance to really hear him and Shipp allows him plenty of room too.

'Re-Union' starts the album and at once there is that intelligence which is part of both players' intrinsic nature. Shipp interspersing pretty rivulets of sound among Parker's evocative rhythms. There are random passages ( seemingly random, yet at the third listen a pattern emerges) where the bass walks its own line, the piano flows over the top and then seems so sidle up to the bass like an interested observer as if to say, 'come play this way'. The bass responds, dropping its own ideas and following the piano for a while. Shipp is masterful in his delivery, from trickles to stepped chords and knows just when to encourage the bass - like when he repeats the same chord several times and the bass responds in kind on the strings. What strikes is the similarity in tone at times from the two strung instruments. The percussive subtleties are used as effectively as the melody lines. The joy of this track is the length of it, at just over 22 minutes, which allows themes and ideas to be fully and clearly developed. Shipp at one time prowls the length of the keys in a frenetic flurry of dissonant chords which the bass echoes with melodic and sighing phrases - turning the previous conversation on its head. Even in the closing phrases we get jazzed out top lines from Shipp, softer, gentler lines and a sensual final fade.

The 'New Zo Re-Union' is more plink and plonk than melody for the first section. Then, the bass enters with a sweeping, deep, lustrous bow and its body reverberates over buzzy bowed strings, while Shipp issues forth incredible, linked phrases of enormity in sound and phrasing. There are times when the two instruments meld together so closely there is an innate sense of cohesion and oneness. The effective return to the gentle 16 note theme emphasises the harmonics of the rest of the number, particularly when Shipp thunders out the deep chords as the bass maintains its steady reply. Absolutely stand out from both players, this is a piece of epic proportions musically and emotively and contains such musical beauty, it is difficult to put into words.

'Further DNA Re-Union' is shorter at around fourteen and a half minutes, but still of a length which allows it to develop and evolve. There is a sense of Shipp deeply engrossed to an extent the exploration of the instrument at his disposal is more the controlling factor than any end point. The bass of Parker easily works to follow and sometimes lead the way, deftly avoiding some of the crevices into which both could fall and leading back to the key. The result is tuneful, with Shipp diverging into several styles, whilst the bass reflects, yet contains the boundaries. At times, the pair seem to be playing almost standards with wonderful references easily arising out of the freely improvised sections - the minds and ideas becoming a singular thing. An intriguing and compelling listen.

'Song Of Two Re-Union' is a gentler piece, at least initially. It is only 6 minutes or so long and has the sense of being a conversation on a different level. Shipp's tenderness with the keys is reflected by Parker's unerring responses and the subtle changes, like the times Parker glides across chords, works to emphasise the gentle character of the piece - even with Shipp rumbling in the lower notes. A change and the piano is singing a tune in upper registers across the top of harmonic bass lines and a gear shift happens. Suddenly both players are creating their own beautiful lines which meld and diverge , creating colours and textures.

This is a wonderful album with both players impressive. Both sense that precise moment when to come forward and when to allow the other more of the floor.

Parker says, "After thirty years the music connection between myself and Matthew Shipp is getting stronger and more beautiful. Everything has purpose and function all the sounds and silences are dancing in their own way. Excursions into myriad worlds of tone, texture and color. All anchored by the tradition of the blues and the cosmic church. Even as the world around us is dying this new CD “ReUnion” on RogueArt is a testimony of hope and light."

Shipp comments, "Playing duo with William Parker is a joy and a dream for me. It feels so natural like it is ordained by the gods that it had to happen. The dialogue between us is natural and unforced. It does feel to me that this duo had reached full maturation. There is not much I can say about the music except to say we just play the music. At times what is here seems to me to transcend the idea of music and enter some realm of pure language and vibration. I feel so blessed to be in a duo of this sort. The less I say the better. Open yourself up to the flow of the language."

The album is enjoyable start to finish. One thing is for certain. No matter how pressing engagements are I am never going to leave a Shipp performance part way through.

Interestingly, the album is produced by Michel Dorbon whose first production, twenty years ago, was Matthew Shipp’s trio with William Parker and Rob Brown, and, over fifteen years ago, his first recording for RogueArt (though not the first label reference) was Matthew Shipp’s quartet with William Parker, Sabir Mateen and Gerald Cleaver.

Re-Union is just four pieces but it evidences the art of communication in jazz - its necessity and the sheer brilliance when it happens.