Matthew Shipp Trio

Root of Things
Relative Pitch Records RPR 1022

Stefan Orins Trio

Liv

Circum Disc CIDI 1402

Perhaps it’s case of comparing apples and oranges, but these takes on the classic piano trio end up with telling and widely different results. Usually classified as part of the so-called avant garde, and after almost a quarter century of recording, New York pianist Matthew Ship has produced what may be his most conventional Jazz album. Concurrently the French trio helmed by Lille-based pianist Stefan Orins, which has been a unit since 1996, and whose members move in-and-out of the experimental sphere, has come up with a CD that is high gloss, but virtually indistinguishable from many other sessions. Both are still quality products.

The key track which pinpoints the difference between the two is Root of Things’ “Jazz It”. Featuring a straight-ahead walking bass line from Michael Bisio, usually found is outlier circumstances with the likes of Joe McPhee, and accented pumps from Shipp’s long-time drummer Whit Dickey, the pianist effortlessly runs the Bop changes. Using tremolo pacing and a torrent of connective notes, Shipp reaches a climax which suspends tones as he outputs further variations. It’s as if the pianist has suddenly morphed into Cedar Walton or Harold Mabern. With one track (“Path”) given over to Bisio’s low-pitched strums and spiccato plucks; and another (“Pulse Code”) a showcase for Dickey’s ruffs and vibrating cymbals, the stylized modern Jazz echoes are cemented. More recognizable Shipp motifs from dense, driving chords that reach player-piano velocity and low-pitched rumbling arpeggios, plus infrequent soundboard tickles make their appearances throughout. The story telling is quieter and more balladic, though. Overall, Root of Things comes across as more of a place-marking trio portrait than a radical step forward.

Stefan Orins’ trio also attains his goals, but like a fonctionnaire doing his job in accordance with the clock’s allotted time period, it appears the band has foreshortened goals. Also involved in theatre, film soundtrack and singer accompaniment work, the pianist is associated with the Circum Grand Orchestra. Drummer Peter Orins, who works in film and with rock bands, is also artistic director of the Circum collective. Another affiliate, bassist Christophe Hache, plays with many French jazzers.

Starting off with a bang on “Initiales VV” pianist Orins confirms his skill with hard and heavy passing chords, high gloss rhythmic motion, as well as a balladic heart. Hache moves and slides rhythmically and the drummer is always on beat. During the other six selections, the trio lives up to its original impression. By the time the double-time “Kraków”, the final track, appears, the band has confirmed its speed mastery. Repeated keyboard patterns, echoed by bass string pops, suffuse the cascading melody with dexterous vigor. Elsewhere, when exciting melodic vibration aren’t being powerfully snapped out from the keyboard, seconded by double bass slices and rat-tat-tat drumming, then equally congenial slower-paced motifs are exposed. Stand-out is the mercurial “Henri Grouès” – fame or origin unknown – which bristles with atmospheric menace. On it the pianist confirms that his keyboard skills extend to burrowing inside the instrument, with the vibrations from stopped and plucked inner strings contributing to the compelling tome.

Both CDs will likely impress fans of the classic piano trio and contemporary Jazz in general. But perhaps next time out Orins and company will play with a bit more freedom, while Shipp, Bisio and Dickey will return to the more experimental path they’ve become experts in over the years.

-Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Root: 1. Root of Things 2. Jazz It 3. Code J 4. Path 5. Pulse Code 6. Solid Circuit

Personnel: Root: Matthew Shipp (piano); Michael Bisio (bass) and Whit Dickey (drums)

Track Listing: Liv: 1. Initiales VV 2. Liv 3. Vicky the Cat 4. Upplösning 5. Henri Grouès 6. Bruxelles Charleroi 7. Kraków

Personnel: Liv: Stefan Orins (piano); Christophe Hache (bass) and Peter Orins (drums)