Monday, May 16, 2011

Matthew Shipp: The Art of the Improviser

Nothing but smart musicianship is evident in pianist Matthew Shipp’s double disc set, The Art of the Improviser.  Both discs are live-date recordings.  The first, recorded at the Troy, NY, Arts Center in April, 2010, is one continuous set from Shipp’s trio. Michael Bisio plays bass and longtime trio member Whit Dickey, the drums. The second disc is comprised of an equally tight Shipp solo gig at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC two months later.

Turning fifty years old in December of 2010, Shipp reached a milestone in a musician’s career that is commonly noticed, as if age signified creative maturation. Over the years, Shipp’s innate musical intelligence has gone unchanged, but his improvisatory language seems to have acquired more of a nuanced fluidity and engaging character through his discovery of fingering subtleties integrated within an increase in fluctuating rhythms.

A three-pronged organism operates in the first disc, where each musician yields to the other with ease. Identifiably the leader, Shipp tows the thematic ropes for his own tunes as well as for Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the A Train.”  The introductory “The New Fact” reveals Bisio inheriting a trio-built line in a stunning pizzicato solo that induces stone-cold silence from Shipp, Dickey and the audience.  In the next “3 in 1,” after Shipp’s lengthy piano ostinato, Dickey, in his own solo, outdoes his restrained, understated drumming self, with a relentless, downright breath-taking, even-handed face-paced snare-tom-bass drum drive; he treats the cymbals on a par with drums. Shipp’s shining moments on this side are everywhere: his playing glistens like a multitude of stars across the darkest of nights. The most intensity comes mid-album when he does not leave the middle register of the keyboard for nearly sixteen minutes, alighting accentually on a treble or bass note.

Shipp’s solo performance reflects his inexhaustible exploration of timbre and touch. The reverent boldness with which he approaches the keys widens the improvisatory field in between a specific thematic concept and its parenthetic reprise.  As Shipp moves from “4-D” to the concluding “Patmos” without breaking, the repetition of phrases and figures constructs the spatiality of his language. It is a means to render his gestures simultaneously recognizable and brand new. His take on “Fly Me To The Moon” demonstrates a conscious determination to alter perceptions of the familiar. An exquisite balance of straightforward musical design and profound sound generation testifies to the pianist’s God-given genius.

Matthew Shipp, Michael Bisio, Whit Dickey (The Matthew Shipp Trio)
Matthew Shipp (solo piano)
The Art of the Improviser (2 discs)
Thirsty Ear

copyright 2011 Lyn Horton

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