Thursday, June 22, 2006

Matthew Shipp - One

(Thirsty Ear)

Pianist Matthew Shipp might not be a household word, but his accomplishments have done a good deal to keep the spirit of jazz music alive and moving. In addition to playing in the David S. Ware Quartet for over 15 years, grounding the tenor saxophonist’s gales of sound, he has overseen the Thirsty Ear label’s Blue Series, which includes an array of forward-thinking jazz albums. Shipp himself has appeared on several of those releases including some that, a few years ago, were dubbed “jazztronica.” Here, Shipp skillfully proved that free improvisation could meld with electronic beats to create something that was groovy and cerebral.

For One, Shipp stepped into the studio alone and created 12 pieces that flow together like a 40-minute suite, thanks to careful editing. Much of the album has touchstones in jazz music, but in his careful hands, it sounds highly unique, and doesn’t adhere to a standard definition of jazz. “Gamma Ray,” has a funky feel of Bud Powell as its base, for instance, but once he states the theme, Shipp’s right hand discards any set time signature and flows freely over the melodic line. The blues creeps into the emotional tone of his Shipp’s solos, but when he plays a straight 12-bar blues, it sounds anything but standard. “The Encounter” carefully hides the structure behind some dark riffs that feature a lot of rumbling from the low end of the keyboard, which still sounds equally enthralling.

At times tranquil, other times spiritual (one track paraphrases “Angels We Have Heard on High”), with a little thunder thrown in for seasoning, One provides a new look at the solo piano and reveals another side of an extremely versatile performer.

(The review was originally written for a Pittsburgh publication, but it never ran, hence the posting several months after the album's release. Don't let that discourage any curiousity in checking it out.)

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