Review: Matthew Shipp Trio – Piano Song

Matthew Shipp Trio – Piano Song

Newman Taylor Baker – Drums
Michael Bisio – Bass
Matthew Shipp – Piano

Renowned pianist, composer and bandleader Matthew Shipp’s new full length album Piano Song is the latest in a discography that establishes him as a contemporary master of the jazz idiom. For nearly three decades Shipp has developed his unique, inimitable approach to music through a variety of styles and ensembles. His trio work (featuring Newman Taylor Baker on drums and Michael Bisio on bass) is at times stunningly focused, while also straddling a broad swath of the aesthetic continuum of jazz. Shipp’s playing is melodically free, challenging and stretching out of the more “common” thematic trappings. Despite this, Shipp has expressed a complicated relationship with recording. For years, he has publicly stated that he would quit recording new music at some undefined point in the future. In a recent interview with the Village Voice, Shipp revealed that with the exception of a few previously arranged dates, Piano Song, could in fact be his last new recording. For Shipp, who has released well over 60 recordings as a leader/co-leader and as many as a sideman, his studio career may be coming to a close but Piano Song proves that Shipp and his trio are still bent on capturing a little bit of magic.

Opening with the gorgeous, evenly paced “Links,” Shipp’s rich layers of chording encircles and falls on top of the tune’s delicate and varied theme. “Links” gives the listener a brief but intentional introduction to the playing style that Shipp employs throughout Piano Song, a style that walks the line between melodic bebop sensibilities and free explorations. “Cosmopolitan” jumps in with a slick walking bass line and Shipp’s intensely rhythmic comping style is a clear to bop, but it is bop that is confidently subverted and abstracted. Shipp’s sharp, irregular lines blurr any absolute definitions between melody and harmony, comping and soloing. Around the three minute mark, the trio lays out, allowing Bisio to step into a traditionally funky bass solo. Tight and precise, before long, Bisio is rejoined by Shipp and Baker, taking the tune back out to orbit for a bit, until Baker rolls through and carved out space for a thunderous solo.

“Flying Carpet” starts out with with Shipp’s deceptively simple chords floating on top of a steady, halftime drum and bass groove. The trio runs through a series of nimble shifts in time and rhythmic embellishments as Shipp grows more furious and intense with each passing meter, until his light chords become heavy clusters that force the trio to retreat into the piece’s alternating “soft” sections. From the fiery and playful bass and drum duo work of “Scrambled Brain” to the radically dark and minimal mood piece “Void Of”, the trio makes their way through it’s song set conscientiously and with fire.  

Throughout Piano Song, the Shipp trio delivers heady and intense performances that infuse each composition with an explicit sense of direction and purpose. The group’s individual personality and otherworldly sense of interplay leaves the music on this album pulsating with an arresting feeling of raw energy and power. Between the sharp eruptions of light, the music reveals deep, dark shades of tenderness and subtlety. While it is remains to be seen whether or not Shipp will make good on his promise to retire from the recorded medium, we can say with confidence, if Piano Song is Shipp’s last one, it’s a damn strong final effort.

–John Morrison, February 9, 2017

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