Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Four Sides of Matthew Shipp, Michael Bisio's Shining Hour

Matthew Shipp Trio
The Conduct of Jazz
(Thirsty Ear) www.thirstyear.com

The Uppercut: Matthew Shipp/Mat Walerian Duo
Live at Okuden
(ESP-Disk') www.espdisk.com

Matthew Shipp Quintet
Our Lady of the Flowers
(RogueArt) www.rogueart.com

Matthew Shipp Trio
To Duke
(RogueArt) www.rogueart.com

Michael Bisio

Matthew Shipp said that, after he released I've Been To Many Places last year, it might be his last album for awhile. Then came The Gospel According to Matthew and Michael, a trio session with bassist Michael Bisio and violist Mat Maneri. That was followed by two vastly different disks for Rogue Art, a duo with a new collaborator on ESP and, within the past couple months, a new trio album on Thirsty Ear. 

"Don’t listen to what I say when it comes to recording," Shipp told me back in the spring. "I meant it. But I’m still in this vortex of recording. I just can’t seem to get out of it." Well, if the inspiration is there, better to roll with it than to ignore it. Still, this isn't music that can truly be appreciated and understood over dinner. 

The artwork on The Conduct of Jazz resembles the somewhat slick homages to Blue Note albums which might have been seen on album covers in the 1990s. After years of abstract artwork on all those Thirsty Ear albums, that is kind of a surprise.

Shipp's right-hand man/bassist Michael Bisio is back with him on this album, the newest of this batch of releases. Rather than regular drummer Whit Dickey, Newman Taylor Baker sits behind the kit, playing with an understated pulse that can shift easily between keeping the tempo and blurring it. The title track is one of Shipp's catchier themes, with an AABA structure that shifts between 7/4 in the A and 5/4 in the B. Bisio walks through it and Baker gives it a swing that liberates it from the potential rigidity of the signatures. "Blue Abyss" finds the group working on a dark groove, with Shipp providing the contrast with variations on the main chord. In "Streams of Light" the pianist plays alone, with an engaging solo that puts his inquisitive manner on display, made all the more enjoyable by his unique phrasing and stresses. "The Bridge Across" rolls on for 12 minutes, a length that Shipp rarely commits to on disc.

Shipp has recorded duo albums with several reed players, like saxophonists Rob Brown, Darius Jones and Ivo Perelman. Poland native Mat Walerian actually plays a Dolphy-esque arsenal of reeds on his meeting with Shipp: bass clarinet, alto saxophone, soprano clarinet and flute. This is an album where the line between improvisation and composition blurs, due in part to the way the two communicate.

The tracks titled "Free Bop Statement One" and "...Two" are credited to both men, implying an improvisation. Yet Shipp provides a bit of grounded structure to both (they appear concurrently with breaks between them that are only detectable when watching the CD counter) while Walerian blows a dry-toned, inquisitive alto that resides in the mid-range with a few quick squeals. The title surely likely came as an afterthought and is in keeping with Shipp titles that approach the tradition with some irreverence.

Walerian's clarinets create some of the album's finest moments. "Blues for Acid Cold" (which doesn't resemble a traditional blues) begins with an introspective Shipp solo before Walerian's b-flat reed makes its entrance. (The latter receives sole writing credit on this one, for the record.) The 16-minute "Black Rain" finds the duo so comfortable with each other that they nearly stretch out into a chamber music duo. Those looking for a new diversion in Shipp's ever-growing discography are encouraged to start here.

Of course. To Duke takes him in a surprising direction too. Yes, the pianist - along with Bisio and Dickey - pay tribute to the beloved Mr. Ellington. But yes, they do it on their own terms which means bass and drums bob and weave behind the piano that plays "In a Sentimental Mood" and "Solitude," the Ellington compositions that bookend the album. In between they also add a couple Shipp originals that relate, at least in title and spirit, to the interpretations.

While Ellington salutes are often too reverent to have meaning to anyone but the performer, it's nice to hear the overplayed "Satin Doll" bounced off the wall like a Monk solo, with the bass and drums keeping a steady 4/4 within arm's reach if they need to bring it back up. "Prelude to a Kiss" also has a Monk-like approach, due to Shipp's two choruses playing the theme with just enough embellishment to give it new character. After all these decades, the kiss has taken on different qualities. And so does a ride on the A Train.

There will never be another tenor saxophonist like the late David S. Ware, with whom Shipp played extensively. "From the Beyond," the fourth track on Our Lady of the Flowers comes off like an accidental tribute to the master, the tenor eruptions coming from Sabir Mateen. Bassist William Parker, another longtime Ware bandmate, creates the rolling thunder with Shipp, giving Mateen the bed for heavy vibrato, low growls and high-pitched exclamations. Drummer Gerald Cleaver gets the final word, not with multi-directional shots across his kit but a steady bash on toms and cymbal, which finishes off the track for a solid two minutes. 

"From the Beyond" epitomizes the quartet on Our Lady of the Flowers but the disc features much more than that. The group breaks into duos (piano and drums, piano and clarinet), solos (bass) and even a trio without piano. Some of it gets brutal, some of it sounds exploratory, but all of it sounds consistent. Proof that changing one or two musicians in a band can take the entire sound in completely new directions.

Michael Bisio says that Accortet "chronicles thirty-plus years of my life as a composer in song form and otherwise." Nevertheless, the bright melody of "AM," which kicks off the album, still comes out of right field. After hearing him with Shipp numerous times, and on a recent disc of solo bass (the self-released Travel Music, circa 2011), the bright 6/8 folk melody indicates that Bisio's scope is wider than what might be expected. He's joined by cornetist Kirk Knuffke, drummer Michael Wimberley and, in the role that inspired the album title, accordionist Art Bailey.

While the opening piece sounds bright and engaging thanks to all parties involved, Bailey also puts to rest the question of whether a squeezebox can blow free jazz. "Giant Chase" sounds just like what its name implies, and Bailey gets a chance to wail freely as the rhythm section cuts loose. "Charles Too!" begins at a slow tempo, morphing into a brisk pace that gives him a chance to do it again.

In between those directions, Bisio comes up with one of the best titles of all time, "I Want To Do To You What Spring Does to Cherry Trees," it being a modern ballad (lyrics could fit the melody) that puts Knuffke's warm cornet in the spotlight, with strong punctuation from Bailey and the composer. "Times That Bond" starts free, but by the end Bisio picks out the riff of A Love Supreme's "Acknowledgement," which seems to be a tip of the hat, albeit out of tempo. Strong stuff.

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