Michael Bisio

Relative Pitch RPR 1040

Matthew Shipp Trio

The Conduct of Jazz

Thirsty Ear THI 57211

Straightforward in his improvising and composing, it’s fairly easy to understand how Michael Bisio has become bassist of choice for many of Jazz’s most exploratory players. He has had a long-time relationship with pianist Matthew Shipp as well as being part of straightforward ensembles with the likes of saxophonist Louie Belogenis and saxophonist/trumpeter Joe McPhee.

Although straightforward is straight as in a straight line, straightforward isn’t straight as in straight-ahead. For instance on the disc as part of Shipp’s trio with drummer Newman Taylor Baker; and with his newly constituted Accortet, featuring cornetist Kirk Knuffke, drummer Michael Wimberly and accordionist Art Bailey, Bisio’s creativity allows for angling unexpected strategies within these performances. But like a competitive long-distance swimmer who makes sure a guiding boat is always nearby, he ensures that tunes maintain a determined form and never drift off into cacophony.

This is apparent on Accortet, even if the personnel suggest this might be an Herb Alpert-Lawrence Welk salute. On the contrary, Knuffke, whose affiliations are in chamber Jazz, such as his duo with pianist Jesse Stacken and in more extroverted ensembles like Ideal Bread, eschews the simply rhythmic and commonplace in his solos. Whether his instrument is muted or played open horn, his clean, fluttering pitches impart resilience and enthusiasm to the nine tracks. Bailey, who also plays in Guy Klucevsek’s all-squeezebox group and a similarly constituted combo with Knuffke, is as close to Welk’s accordion style as Cecil Taylor’s piano playing is to Liberace’s. Crucially Bailey adds post-modernist smarts to the keyboard-and-bellows lineage that goes back to Art Van Damme’s swing style. Throughout he also ups the buoyant groove of some tunes by judiciously emphasizing the bellows’ smears and sighs. Elsewhere tension-building tactics are characterized by short squeaky judders that lead to a feeling of liberation when they cease. Like a canny dialogue coach in a theatre pit, Wimberley is almost out of sight – or hearing – but prods the backbeat with snare and cymbal equanimity when necessary, most prominently on “Sun Mystery Ra History”.

Supple and moderately paced, Bisio’s bass work can thump like a heart monitor to give a tune extra oomph as on “Giant Chase” or stretch staccato pulses to add to the brisk drama of “Charles Too!” On the former Knffke’s timbral surge consisting of intense squeaks, are moderated into chromatics by the bassist’s walking bass; on the latter, the finale weaves its way to moderato, despite biting organ-like glissandi from Bailey in its centre. Like a racing car negotiating the twists and turns of an unpaved road, the concluding “Livin' Large (C&B)” emphasizes Bisio’s skill, multi-stopping ahead of accordion pulses and brass growls. But no matter how stinging the bass line becomes, Bisio also maintains a percussive smoothness that gives the narrative an even keel. In contrast and other places, the bassist’s low-key undulations mixed with Bailey’s restrained swing come across like the accompaniment for Frank Sinatra crooning a love ballad. Knuffke’s play the singer’s role to a “t”, ending his vocalized yearning with fluttering grace notes.

Grace is on show along with power on The Conduct of Jazz. Like a secularized individual who denies then embraces his background, the pianist’s critiques of pre-Free Jazz have been replaced with its celebration. Shipp will never be Keith Jarrett or any more mainstream type, but now his compositions and improvisations are galvanized with buoyant swing as well as crunching atonal dynamics. As early as the second and title tune, the pianist’s playing jumps with a moderato bounces that suggest Count Basie’s keyboard economy as he speeds up and slows down particular motifs. Meanwhile Bisio’s cello-pitched stops steady the composition so that few ricocheting keyboard notes are drawn inwards. Eventually the bassist leads the narrative to a tart finale via Mingus-styled doubled plucks. A pseudo-tango with dexterous motifs “Primary Form” is another instance of this double-barreled skill. Along with Baker’s souped-up rumbles, Shipp simultaneously reveals slim theme variations from one hand while snaking rhythms down to the backboards with the other. In the same way the blues-paced “Blue Abyss” moves from a power exposition to a near-mainstream romp, with Baker’s backbeat drumming combining with piano key jabs to propose a loping melody that suggest unfettered children running through a grassy field.

“Ball in Space” however confirms that Free Jazz power still underlies the trio’s explorations. Like an adolescent testing his strength, Shipp bangs on the keys with elbows and forearms; with Baker’s clip-clop rhythms adding conga-like coloration. Bisio’s dramatic bowing that introduces the piece also ends up signaling its completion. Assertively his carefully measured rubs set up a theatrical ostinato; the end is a figure-skater-like arco sweep across his strings.

As fully a part of this trio as Ray Brown was with Oscar Peterson’s or Israel Crosby with Ahmad Jamal’s, Bisio confirms his skill at timbral integration throughout The Conduct of Jazz. At the same time Accortet demonstrates that his leadership talents as composer, arranger and player are as finely honed, even with unusual instrumentation.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Accortet: 1. AM 2. Henry's Theme 3. Giant Chase; 4. Times That Bond 5. I Want To Do To You What Spring Does To Cherry Trees 6. Livin' Large; (A&D) 7. Charles Too! 8. Sun Mystery Ra History 9. Livin' Large (C&B)

Personnel: Accortet: Kirk Knuffke (cornet); Art Bailey (accordion); Michael Bisio (bass) and Michael Wimberly (drums)

Track Listing: Conduct: 1. Instinctive Touch 2. The Conduct of Jazz 3. Ball in Space 4. Primary Form 5. Blue Abyss 6. Stream of Light 7. The Bridge Across.

Personnel: Conduct: Matthew Shipp (piano); Michael Bisio (bass) and Newman Taylor Baker (drums)