May 22, 2024

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CD review: Matthew Shipp – New Concepts In Piano Trio Jazz – 2024: Video, CD cover

This group evolves in leaps and bounds. You’ve never heard a jazz piano trio sound like this album — not even this band on its previous album, the much-praised World Construct.

That said, there is a through line from the first Matthew Shipp Trio album, 1990’s Circular Temple to New Concepts in Piano Trio Jazz.

Says Shipp, “Yes, we went there with that type of title this time. To anyone who thought the trio had reached its apotheosis on World Construct, you are in for a surprise — this is light years ahead of World Construct. Of course each CD is its own world and valuable for that, but I am in complete and utter shock at what I am listening to. New Concepts in Piano Trio Jazz sounds completely thoroughly composed and yet completely spontaneously improvised at the same time. This is a major album in jazz history.

Newman Taylor Baker is one of the most profound percussionists ever. Michael Bisio sounds like God’s angel on this album. He has dedicated himself to working in my vision for years now and I think this might be the ultimate of how we can read each other and hook up. This is one of the greatest trio albums ever.

While creating a whole new cosmos we manage to escape every cliché that exists in jazz and in avant jazz. This really might be the last trio CD because it really cannot get better than this.”

When pianist Matthew Shipp sent me the sound files for his previous trio album, World Construct, I gave it a rave review, praising Shipp’s ability to ” coalesce the different elements” of a spontaneously improvised piece into musically coherent form, but in that album the abstract was more powerful than the overall form.

New Concepts in Piano Trio Jazz is on a par with what I consider to be the finest disc he has made with avant-garde tenor saxist Ivo Perelman, Fruition (ESP Disk’ 5070). How good is it? Shipp himself says, “This really might be the last trio CD because it really cannot get better than this.”

Clearly, this is an avant-garde jazz album that has across-the spectrum appeal. The music sounds through-composed, almost like some modern classical music, yet every bit of it was improvised on the spot. One will note, for instance, that instead of just numbering the takes as in Fruition, Shipp has given names to each of the pieces on this CD, as he did in World Construct. This, in itself, tells me that he thinks of this music as whole pieces of music and not just fragmentary experiments.

I have long felt that Shipp was headed in this direction. On all of his CDs with Perelman, for instance, it was always he who fed Ivo lines that had some musical form to them, and gradually the saxist moved more and more in his direction. Much of the music on this CD is soft and gentle; in the hands (and mind) of a lesser talent, it might sound like “ambient jazz,” one of the scourges of our time; but Shipp’s sense of harmony, and how the underlying chords play into the top line, is here at the level of Bill Evans at his most adventurous. (Listen to Evans in the three albums he made with George Russell, particularly New York, N.Y. and Jazz in the Space Age, as well as his most modern-sounding album, Loose Blues, for a good analogy.)

While Shipp takes his time creating exquisite long lines that have a superb inner logic and fascinating chord progressions, his partners, Bisio and Taylor Baker, weave their contributions in and around him in a way just as subtle, surprising and satisfying as the way Scott La Faro and Paul Motian did with Evans on Sunday at the Village Vanguard. Yet even after making such a comparison, one hears differences, for instance in The Function which sounds eerily like a lost Thelonious Monk composition (or, perhaps, Monk mixed with Herbie Nichols, the latter one of Shipp’s favorite pianists). Here, Bisio provides a walking bass line while Taylor Baker is all over the place rhythmically, which continually adds interest to the proceedings. Shipp’s single-note solo in the middle of the piece, however, sounds like no one but Matthew Shipp. Even when Shipp abandons the single-note lines and plays a succession of simple alternating chords, the listener stays riveted because you just don’t know where the music is going to go from there.

Non Circle opens with Taylor Baker playing a fairly complex pattern on drums, into which Bisio and then Shipp enter. This piece is closer in feeling to the music on World Construct, but it, too has more of an underlying structure. Here, Shipp seemed to be emulating Cecil Taylor a bit, giving us a complex structure that is missing walls and floors, but after his first chorus he grounds the music in a tonal (sometimes bitonal) manner, developing what he has just played ina more fleshed-out manner. Eventually he gets into a steady rocking rhythm while Taylor Baker continues to play complex, asymmetric figures behind him. Bisio’s bass moves subtly into double time, played so subtly that one must listen very carefully to catch everything he is doing.

Tone IQ opens quite abstractly, with sparse single notes and chords played by Shipp amidst querulous contributions from Bisio and tentative accents from the drums. Surprisingly, however, it eventually moves into a slow-moving but quite lyrical piece featuring bowed bass and Shipp delicately inserting soft notes and chords in a tonal environment. slowly but surely, however, the tonality slips into bitonal and atonal passages while the lyricism somehow manages to continue. Bisio then plays double-time passages in his instrument’s upper register while Taylor Baker envelops both bassist and pianist in cymbal washes. This is typical of the kind of high-level interplay that both captivates and challenges the listener.

There is so much going on in Brain Work, even in Shipp’s opening piano statement, that it would take a full paragraph to describe it, yet he never goes so far out that the listener cannot follow his musical train of thought. Despite the coherent conception presented here, Shipp’s lines are knotty and complex both melodically and harmonically. In Coherent System Shipp really goes out on a limb, yet always seems to be able to rein his mind (and fingers) back into an evolving thread of music. When he moves into double time, Bisio is right there with him, playing plucked single notes in the mid-high range of the bass. Taylor Baker, on the other hand, is more of an accasional commentator on this one, seldom intruding on the mind-boggling dialogue between piano and bass until about the midway point, when he contributes some military-sounding snare drum licks. Shipp eventually plays a passage that sounds somewhat Bach-like but for the shifting, ambiguous harmony. In such a way, the trio combines simplicity (and, sometimes, repeated patterns) with complexity (at times, so complex that it will take you tw or three listening to catch it all) throughout this set.

What a recording. The music on this completely improvised set is staggering and will simply blow you away; but I can just hear some jazz fans lamenting the fact that “it sounds too much like classical music.” Get over it. Jazz has been fusing to one extent or another with classical music since the 1910s. This is just a subtler, more modern manifestation of that fusion.

Matthew Shipp, piano
Michael Bisio, bass
Newman Taylor Baker, drums

New Concepts in Piano Trio Jazz | Matthew Shipp

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