Matthew Shipp / Joe Hertenstein / Seth Paynter / Thomas Helton

June 4, 2017

The Core Trio featuring Matthew Shipp

Evil Rabbit Records ERR 23

Matthew Shipp Trio

Piano Song

Thirsty Ear THI 57212.2

Sports announcers and other chroniclers of the minutiae of recreational challenges often muse about the effects of home turf advantages verses road situations when aiming for winning outcomes. However it’s evident that improvising musicians are made of sterner stuff. With peripatetic schedules that make the itineraries of pro ball teams resemble childhood walks around the block, they usually score no matter where they’re playing.

If there were Jazz musician collectors’ cards, New York pianist Matthew Ship would certainly rate one, complete with status and stats. A recent quartet disc, recorded in Houston with that city’s Core Trio plus the newest disc with his working trio confirm his consistent inventiveness. Like monotheistic prophets among the Philistines, members of The Core Trio, tenor saxophonist Seth Paynter and bassist Thomas Helton have been preaching the gospel of Free Jazz since 2004. Recently New York-based drummer Joe Hertenstein joined the band, and to cement the line up, the group recorded this home town concert with visiting MVP Shipp. Although circumstances may have suggested a Houston Rockets vs New York Knicks face-off, instead the four function as interlocking pieces in a Lego set.

Shipp, whose past associates have included heavy-hitters like bassist William Parker, saxophonist Assif Tsahar and drummer Gerald Cleaver, easily outputs corrosive pianism that’s an amalgam of contrasting dynamics, comforting connective note cascades and runs that relate to bedrock boogie-woogie keyboard disposition as much as abstract sound exploration. Although the result may suggest an amalgam of Sergei Rachmaninoff and Art Tatum, unlike some sports superstars the pianist doesn’t showboat to emphasis his skills. Good thing too. For Helton’s vibrating bass line fastens onto the bottom like a puppy with a slipper, as Hertenstein’s thick pumps, thrusts and rolls keep the time solid as well as polychromatic. Of the Ayler-Trane lineage, Paynter’s overblowing, flutter tonguing and split-tone gurgles not only produce thematic variations to the nth power, but also mix it up head-to-head with kinetic cross-over from the pianist and/or drummer. Anchored by sympathetic double-bass pumps, hard piano action and altissimo reed whistles lead “Before the Break” to a pinnacle of clashing intensity, the band pauses, and then pick things up again “After the Break”. Almost more torqued, with the sax lines essaying a higher-pitched Orientalized cast, like a star player challenging a rookie, Shipp’s jumping cascades almost overpower Paynter’s multiphonics on the second track. However as crackling interjections from the bassist reorient the theme the second half reverses the interface, with Shipp’s chording turning processional and Paynter’s reductionist puffs almost gentle. A last-minute near-Baroque piano pile-up keeps the tempo and track staccato and serious to the end.

Shipp is even more impressive on home turf with his working trio of long-time associate bassist Michael Bisio and veteran drummer Newman Taylor Baker. Like a full professor revealing the extent of his epistemological research at an important academic conference, the pianist uses the CD’s 12 tracks to confirm all facets of his keyboard dexterity.

With the themes all composed by Shipp, there are some echoes of earlier stylists. The power and passion of “Gravity Point” recalls very early Cecil Taylor, especially when the pianist’s percussion action coupled with Bisio’s woody tone recaps the head at the end. Another high-energy showcase where slaps and slides from Baker meet Shipp’s tremolo digs in the bass clef has a further multiple mirror effect when the tune’s Monkish cast may also reflect an earlier standard tune processed through the older pianist’s unique concepts. Additionally the playful, elaborations, mixed with bass clef rumblings prominent on “Micro Wave”, propose that the bouncy freedom Herbie Nicholls and Burton Greene bring to their tunes can also affect Shipp’s.

Shipp also excels in bringing a relaxed and subtle integration to even the most serious pieces slotted firmly within the Jazz tradition. Undulating thumps from the bassist and rim-shot clumps and shudders from the drummer make “Silence of” and other tracks undulate with chamber music-like warmth. But the sophisticated keyboard elaborations, no matter how advanced, would be more recognizable in a night club than a recital hall. Like filmgoers who would characterize David Cronenberg as a horror film maker without appreciating the depth of his films’ themes, the strongest argument to appreciate Shipp as a pianist comes in a solo setting on “The Nature of”. While developing a classic Blues progression, mixed with technically sophisticated forward motions that come from the so-called classical tradition, popping asides and arpeggio-rich variable chording confirm Shipp’s originality at many speeds.

Also confirmed by both discs is how the pianist plays with heightened sensibilities no matter the circumstances or geographical location.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Core: 1. Before the Break 2. After the Break

Personnel: Core: Seth Paynter (tenor saxophone); Matthew Shipp (piano); Thomas Helton (bass) and Joe Hertenstein (drums)

Track Listing: Piano: 1. Links 2. Cosmopolitan 3. Blue Desert 4. Silence of 5. Flying Carpet 6. Scrambled Brain 7. Micro Wave 8. Mind Space 9. Void of Sea 10. The Nature of 11. Gravity Point 12. Piano Song

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