Two Sets of Matthew Shipp Live at the Stone Reviewed, July 16, 2016

On Saturday, July 16, as part of a week-long residency, Matthew Shipp led two fully improvised trios at the Stone. Each set went in a decisively different direction, showing the diverse capabilities of Shipp as an improviser. Shipp, one of the premier pianists of our time, emerged to prominence working the downtown scene in the 1980s and 1990s and has continued to be a major creative presence in the years since with over sixty records to his name.

The first set featured bassist Michael Bisio and Brooklyn-born violist Mat Maneri in an adventurous and exploratory encounter through one long piece. Though they dived right in from the first notes, they maintained a feeling of alert curiosity throughout the set as they chased, countered, and embraced one another through their music. Bisio was very much at the center of the music with very rapid lines that energized and buoyed the ensemble throughout the set. That gave Shipp and Maneri the freedom to play outside that structure, darting within, making forays at one another, and springing about on the surface and the edges. The music also featured regular emotional variance, from brightly-glinting peaks to confident, non-rushed solos or duets, driven by a patient balance between musicians. The shapes of the music were constantly changing–expanding from Bisio’s robust bass lines at the center with Shipp and Maneri pushing outward towards punctuated peaks, while at other times diminishing down to solos or quiet duet work that explored the minimalist possibilities of their collective voices and artistic vision. All three built an evolving narrative tension that ebbed and flowed. Shipp’s playing was sensitive due to his vertical, waterfall technique on the keys, matching aesthetically to Maneri’s light-as-a-feather or microtonal turns. To this, Bisio was the foil, with his booming, rope-like central tether that kept the who sound afloat and energized.

For the second set, Shipp featured reeds-player Charles Waters and drummer Andrew Barker, both of whom have been active on the New York scene since arriving in the city from Atlanta in 1998. This set featured one long and two short pieces, all of which were high-energy, heart-thumping free jazz. This time, it was often Shipp holding down the center and pushing the pace with his buoyant playing, while Barker and Waters worked the edges. Throughout, Waters adeptly moved between alto and tenor saxophones, as well as clarinet, using the instruments’ different aesthetic possibilities to bring out elements of the collective sound. Waters’ ability to move seamlessly between fiery, hard-edged propulsions and classically beautiful, vibratoed melodies opened many aesthetic possibilities as the music evolved through the set. Still as the music heated up, the trio varied the palette, for example, by dissipating down to a piano solo that soon added ambient cymbal work and clarinet kissing the air. Barker brought his rare talent of destabilizing the music rhythmically while adroitly propelling the ensemble forward at the same time, often moving in multiple directions at once. This off-kilter feel allowed for both constant evolution of ideas as well as forward progress that was full of surprises. All three musicians played in an unselfish manner, withdrawing when they recognized an opportunity for a solo or a duet, leading or following as the need dictated. At the same time, when the trio came together and began to push higher and higher, they supported one another and did not shy away from aiming for the highest possible levels of energy. After exploring one particular direction to fruition, the trio often reverted back to a Shipp solo, where he would set them in a new direction.

–Cisco Bradley, July 20, 2016

Shipp’s Recent Record Releases:

  • Matthew Shipp Quartet – Our Lady of the Flowers (Rogue Art)
  • Matthew Shipp & Michael Bisio – Live in Seattle (Arena Music)
  • Jungle: Mat Walerian, Matthew Shipp, Hamid Drake – Live at Okuden (ESP)
  • Ivo Perelman, Matthew Shipp, Michael Bisio, Whit Dickey – Soul (Leo)
  • Matthew Shipp – Duos with Mat Maneri and Joe Morris (Hat Hut)