Matthew Shipp Quartet

Declared Enemy - Our Lady of the Flowers
RogueArt ROG-0057

Matthew Shipp/Mat Walerian Duo

The Uppercut- Live at Okuden

ESP-Disk 5007

Bobby Kapp

Themes 4 Transmutation

No Label No #

By Ken Waxman

With his mature artistry fully established following 20 years of recording and recent leadership of a working trio with Michael Bisio and Whit Dickey, pianist Matthew Shipp continues to defy conventions by trying out various formulas and partnerships. For example Declared Enemy - Our Lady of the Flowers is an extended meditation on nine of the keyboardist’s composition by Shipp plus bassist William Parker, tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Sabir Mateen and drummer Gerald Cleaver; all of whom he has collaborated with in the past. A sharp left turn The Uppercut - Live at Okuden is a first recording of a meeting of minds between Shipp and Polish reedist Mat Walerian. Finally Themes 4 Transmutation is a rare below-the-radar sideman turn by Shipp joining two other younger players to work with veteran drummer Bobby Kapp, one of the original New Thing percussionists from the ‘60s.

Formed for a 2006 concert honoring French writer Jean Genet (1910-1986), whose first novel was Our Lady of the Flowers, Declared Enemy doesn’t approximate Genet’s specialized world, but instead focuses on state-of-the art improv. That said, the title track offers rhapsodic excitement as the players’ individual output bolts into place like parts of a craftsman’s construction. Thematically based around sour vibrations from Mateen’s clarinet, Shipp adds the sweetening with stealthy contrapuntal jabs, while both float on a cushion consisting of Parker’s broad string-stopping and Cleaver’s cymbal punctuation.

Cleaver’s innate tastefulness keeps the beat cemented, especially when the band tackles balladic material like “A Different Plane” and “From the Beyond”. Stressing a Monkian keyboard economy on the first, Shipp sympathetically draws out the reedist’s ingrained emotionalism allowing Mateen to craft a solo that thrusts Coleman Hawkins-style breathiness into the avant garde with the occasional slurp and sigh. “From the Beyond” is even more plaintive, although the sluicing bass line and drum pounding may suggest otherwise. But like a ruffian who masks his sensitivity under a rough temperament, Mateen’s strangled cries and altissimo screeches don’t hide the romanticism his tone – and Genet’s writing – sometime share. Despite its title, “Cosmic Joke” is the most ambitious composition, unrolling in several sections. Opening with inner piano string reverb, the piece quickly turns staccato as Mateen’s saxophone screeches color and spur Shipp’s pedal-point variations. Eventually joined by fused rhythm section energy, the variations arrive with rugged emphasis until the theme returns with blunt conviction. Jagged clarinet linearity coupled with keyboard detours, side trips and discursions characterize “New Tension” the CD’s single Shipp-Mateen duet.

In comparison, disparate definitions of tension and release define the pianist’s duo CD with Walerian, who plays alto saxophone, bass clarinet, soprano clarinet and flute. Sophisticated enough to adopt individual playing strategies for each of his horns, Walerian’s multiple reed identities encourage the pianist to likewise vary his keyboard guises. With chameleon-like color shifts, pieces such as “Free Bop Statement One” and “Free Bop Statement Two”, despite the titles, bring out a clipped Chopinesque formalism in the pianist with mazurka-like flourishes imbued with jazz feelings; the better to meet the alto saxophonist’s Benny Carter-like sweetness. Skipping forward a century but backwards in jazz chronology, Walerian’s rangy clarinet lines on “Blues for Acid Cold” appear primitivist enough to come from Johnny Dodds. Shipp’s response is updated Jelly Roll Morton, with the strummed melody thoroughly modern, but with a touch of ‘20s blues. Meanwhile “It’s Sick out There”, composed like the former tune by Walerian, plunges the two into a complicated and mercurial conversation. Smearing and spitting split tones with wild animal abandon, the saxophonist’s stretched tone is as atonal here as it was wistful on “…Acid Cold”, while the pianist’s splashing interpolations of multiple cadenzas doesn’t prevent the two from gliding to a heart-beat-linked ending. Detailing is etched into “Black Rai”, Live at Okuden’s most representative track. Both conventional and free, the neatly16½-minute excursion is reminiscent of a garment being created by flighty designers. No sooner is another detail added to the simple structure than an additional flounce or bow is sewn on as well. Shipp’s initial keyboard dusting and Walerian’s unaccented air breaths are swiftly ornamented by skipping melodies from the pianist plus a near-smothering blanket of glissandi from the clarinetist. By the time alluring apparel has been created, supplementary sonic trim is added via flute puffs and lyrical keyboard and inner string detailing. Revealed, the garb is striking, but much altered from its initial pattern.

Like a movie star making an uncredited appearance in an indie film, Shipp’s playing is by necessity anonymous on Themes 4 Transmutation, but it’s only appropriate. Kapp, whose initial LP appearance was on break-though sessions with the likes of Marion Brown, Noah Howard and Dave Burrell, first recorded in 1967, when Shipp was seven. The drummer spent many years in Mexico following The New Thing’s heyday, has recorded as a vocalist, and is also part of a mainstream piano trio with Richard Wylands and Gene Perla. Perhaps the most minimalist percussionist of his era, Kapp’s penchant for understatement remains. His few solos on the four tracks here are breaks rather than fully developed statements and with bassist Tyler Mitchell wedded mostly to time-keeping, thematic interest comes from the pianist and free jazz standard bearer Ras Moshe playing tenor and soprano saxophones and flute. So committed to the verisimilitude of the session is Shipp that his limpid keyboard conception are most reminiscent of Burrell’s and McCoy Tyner’s styles of the time. Then when he turns to fills and comping an unexpected kinship with pre-free dichotomy of Bill Evans-Sonny Clark also arises. Among Mitchell’s string pops and Kapp’s restrained rolls on “Excitement into Inspiration” for instance his keyboard architecture mirrors that of Tyner heard behind John Coltrane and Shepp. Also drawing on this history, Moshe’s clear toned overblowing on this track and elsewhere are appropriately Trane-like plus fuelled by startling, revved-up Shepp-like growls. Adding his own torque to the continuum, the saxophonist shows a command of altissimo, spicing his high-pitches with as many scream variations as James Brown did vocally. A free-form suite of received knowledge, the CD climaxes with “Romance into Love”, with Moshe’s soft flute embellishments and Shipp’s inner-string plucks decorating the sparkling theme, and confirming the ongoing links between the past and present jazz traditions.

Having reached piano master status, Shipp many projects show he’s still evolving. Not only does he score in new formats here, but he isn’t averse to supporting pioneering players regain their proper place on the jazz scene.

Tracks: Declared: Atomic Note; New Tension; A Different Plane; From the Beyond; Silence Blooms Irrational; Our Lady of the Flowers; Gasp; Cosmic Joke

Personnel: Declared: Sabir Mateen: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Matthew Shipp: piano; William Parker: bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums

Tracks: Uppercut: Introduction;. Blues for Acid Cold; Jungle Meditation; Free Bop Statement One; Free Bop Statement Two; It's Sick Out There; Love and the Other Species; Peace and Respect; Black Rain; Encore

Personnel: Uppercut: Mat Walerian: alto saxophone, bass clarinet, soprano clarinet, flute; Matthew Shipp: piano

Tracks: Themes: Adventure into Learning; Excitement into Inspiration; Mystery into Awe; Romance into Love

Personnel: Themes: Ras Moshe: tenor, soprano saxophones, flute; Matthew Shipp: piano; Tyler Mitchell: bass; Bobby Kapp: drums

—For The New York City Jazz Record October 2015