Matthew Shipp

The Piano Equation
Tao Forms Tao 01

Matthew Shipp

Invisible Light – Live São Paulo

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Observing the locations of these two solo programs by Matthew Ship in the studio and in concert, one would be tempted to define them as the public and private concepts of the New York pianist. However, since the 11 studio improvisations are separately delineated and the 11 live tunes bleed into one another as in a stream-of-conscious monologue, perhaps the descriptions should be reversed. Together they supply evidence as to why Shipp is now accepted as one of the avatars of Jazz piano. Throughout both discs he outlines his distinctive approach to the keyboard, dappling his forceful interpretations with continual dips into the piano’s lowest registers, and extends it still further with pedal pressure.

One ostensive point of demarcation between the discs is that on Invisible Light the pianist insinuates his variations on five Great American Songbook classics among the six originals. But his approach is so unique that it’s as if the familiar tunes have been revamped into a new life. For instance “There Will Never be Another You” skims along with florid repeated patterns that are disassembled with variations upon multi-hued variations until a melodic fragment augments into snatches of the familiar theme at the end. Keyboard galloping and thumping with the showiness of mid-century so-called classical performers characterize all the modifications of standards which often spontaneously suggest themselves as he plays. The most affecting variant however is the final track, a stentorian reworking of “Summertime”. Permeated with thickened pumps and pressurized pitch drops, the exhilarating recasting shows why Shipp frequently experiments with the Gershwin tune.

Far more substantial are the pianist’s original improvisations. While they can be in turn repetitively sonorous, accelerated and busy, or sporadically gentle, they contain the same mixture of invention and tradition as on the other disc. The interlocking rhythms of “Symbol Systems”, for instance includes a pressurized walking bass line among its interlocking elements, while “Whole Movement” is both Monkish and Bebopish with splattered asides that are multi-layered and clean. Overall the 12½-minute “Blue in Orion” offers the most detailed blueprint of Shipp’s skills. Often moving at near player-piano speeds, it’s also surprisingly delicate with discursive shifts and stops that share space with hard pounding loops. Surprisingly or not, it concludes with gentle waves of jittery motion.

Even more unadulterated Shipp is on show with The Piano Equation, recoded three year after the São Paulo concert. Although initially his improvising appears more meditative and nuanced, he’s still able to build up to instances of unfettered pulsations. An untapped vein of swing and references to even earlier piano styles seems to have insinuated itself within the Shipp concept along with the occasional undigested digression into Songbook insinuations. Yet the dual positions of brisk ballad unfolding (hear “Piano in Hyperspace”) and Monkish obliqueness mixed with low-pitched asymmetry (hear “Swing Note from Deep Space”) remain.

Maturity has brought a warmer expressiveness to his unfolding expositions, which nevertheless continue to bristle with unexpected jumps and jiggles. Yet, despite its title, a track like “Clown Pulse” could be mistaken for a rent-party Blues until its sophisticated chordal emphasis kicks in. Along with chiming keyboard runs, “Radio Signals Equation”, the set’s longest track shows off his seasoned strategy. With licks suggesting variants of Lennie Tristano’s, Thelonious Monk’s and Cecil Taylor’s innovations, he still confirms his originality in execution, melding energetic clatters and clanks plus complicated metronomic respites. Ending with agitated jitters the result is pure Matthew Shipp.

Meanwhile the concluding “Cosmic Juice” supposes that there are still other avenues for Shipp exploration. While triple dynamics are dealt with elsewhere, here he builds the narrative out of hard and heavy soundboard echoes that slow down to emphasize a meticulous elaboration of the theme. Finally the uncomplicated showpiece is concluded with darkened key chiming that invests it with a dramatic flair.

In terms of distinction and definition when it comes to Shipp, the only difference between these discs is the setting.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Light: 1. Symbol Systems 2. Angel Eyes 3. Whole Movement 4. On Green Dolphin Street 5. Invisible Light 6. There Will Never be Another You 7. Blue in Orion 8. Yesterdays 9. Patmos 10. Gamma Ray 11. Summertime 2:1

Personnel: Light; Matthew Shipp (piano)

Track Listing: Equation: 1. Piano Equation 2. Swing Note from Deep Space 3. Piano in Hyperspace 4. Vortex Factor 5. Land Of The Secrets 6. Void Equation 7. Tone Pocket 8. Clown Pulse 9. Radio Signals Equation 10. Emission 11. Cosmic Juice

Personnel: Equation: Matthew Shipp (piano)