Review: Matthew Shipp Trio

Matthew Shipp

Matthew Shipp Trio
(Vortex, Thursday 17 February 2011, review and drawing by Geoff Winston*)

Very, very … jazz; that was the overriding impression. Shipp’s trio walloped the packed Vortex with two richly rewarding, high energy sets which wove obliquely in and out of the standards repertoire. Given Shipp’s recent well-publicised diatribe one is tempted to say, too, “almost very Jarrett”, because it was as though he was intent on confounding expectations. Many were expecting a left-field and abstract proposition, and, frankly, we got a lovely reinterpretation of what mainstream could mean – close in proximity to the way Keith Jarrett can conceive his music and present it, but with a specifically Shipp cast to it.

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Both sets were straight through, non-stop journeys in which Shipp built dense and demanding improvisations with a rhythm section with whom he shared a telepathic rapport. They’ve played on and off together for getting on for twenty years and this paid off – each was stretched – no coasting and no hesitation. From a quiet, yet angular piano passage, bassist Michael Bisio joined with restraint, then drummer Whit Dickey came in really tight and they took off in a well-meshed, almost mainstream flow – “almost” keeps cropping up, because, despite the homage to the repertoire, it was a consistently idiosyncratic take, which maintained a freshness, eschewing any hint of complacency.

Whit Dickey

Shipp’s rocking, stroking arm action seems to lift complex, pattering runs from the keyboard, but also the convincingly military-style marching chords of “Johnny Comes Marching Home.” Shipp would drop his head right down, spectacles off, Miles-style, in concentration, and Dickey, with torso virtually static, also adopted a head down posture as his arms did the work, whether quietly on cymbals or a powering tempo in synch with Bisio’s physical, hands-on technique. Bisio hammered his bass so hard at one point that it raised the spectre of a forefinger flying across the room; his was such a varied way of working the bass – sometimes held at forty-five degrees as the bow both scraped and stroked the strings, at others he’d clasp it close, hunched over as he picked out the notes – reminiscent of David Izenzon’s range with Ornette’s trio.

Shipp drew the trio along, through textures and layers – dwelling for some time on ‘Green Dolphin Street’ and ‘Tenderly’ both just recognisable, yet unmistakeable, and – possibly – Coltrane’s ‘Spiritual’, letting in reflections of Tyner, with whom Shipp shares affinities, then hints of Red Garland and Monk, even Dolo Coker.

This was a sophisticated set of reflections and explorations, with a serious dip into the jazz bag, and a sometimes playful selection – we had the marching song and a jig. It’s as though Shipp wanted to show how he could get to grips with the jazz legacy and reshape it in his own way. Different to Von Schlippenbach, for instance, whose spikey, nuanced approach exhibits more obvious light and shade, Shipp’s concert was more outwardly ‘conventional’ if you took it at a superficial level, but very deeply worked and actually quite a major rethink of how to deal with the whole structure of the standards. It was quite an achievement. And very single-minded in a Trojan Horse kind of way!

By the end of the evening they were really moving assertively in a warmly flowing dialogue – more lava than river!

(* Images copyright Geoffrey Winston 2011, All Rights Reserved)


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7 replies »

  1. Great review, but is it right to compare this trio to Keith Jarrett's Trio? We had the concert the night after the Vortex and it struck me that Matthew Shipp has a unique approach to interpreting standards in this trio quite unlike anyone else's. What I did hear in the playing were elements of Monk, Bud Powell and a bit of Ellington.

  2. Many thanks for the compliment, which is appreciated.
    Just to contextualise my Jarrett comment, please see http://londonjazz.blogspot.com/2010/01/jazz-has-become-funeral-parlor.html, which flags up the much-discussed statement – on this site, anyway – in which Matthew Shipp refers to Jarrett and Hancock, and to which I perhaps made slightly too veiled a reference (and as Seb says in the article, it may have been quoted slightly unfairly, but we don't know).
    I have, nevertheless, tried to convey that Shipp's is a highly individual take on the repertoire, and NOT 'Jarrett-esque', but not as far removed from his way of thinking about the material, which he played at both concerts, as the statement might have led one to expect.
    It was a way in, and a chance to pick up a thread, without getting tangled up in it!
    I gather from a friend who was at the Birmingham concert that the programme was slightly different – we didn't get 'Take the A Train' (as far as I could hear!), so Ellington did not spring to mind, nor did his style of piano playing, but these things are subject to what happens at a specific moment – and with such a prodigiously skilled pianist as Shipp, the menu can change without notice.
    What was nice was that the direct references were often skillfully half-buried in the musical stream, so only just made themselves known to the listeners, which made it a delight, and which made the case for Shipp's way of addressing and overhauling the way the existing repertoire can be presented, all the more stronger.
    Hope that helps!


  3. We got Take The A Train as an encore in Birmingham. I totally see your point about the way the trio buried the references in the musical stream and this was for me the highlight of the concert. A recording was made by one of the students here(with Matthew's permission!) and he says that, knowing more or less what was going to happen in terms of the gradual and oblique build up to the melody, made the listening to the recording fascinating. To be honest, I was picking up on a comment that Matthew made that he felt the trio sounded nothing like the Keith Jarrett Trio! But I see the point that the two approaches do have points in common.

  4. I don't want to continue the 'Jarrett' debate but I would say that I think Matthew Shipp's comments about the over dominant influence of the 'Herbie Hancock/Miles Davis bands' on contemporary pianists is wide of the mark. There are a number of individual piano voices around, such as Craig Taborn, Myra Melford and jason Moran amongst others. I would particularly like to see a UK tour by a Myra Melford piano trio!
    Thank you for the refernce to David Izenzon. It's a lovely connection and brought back memories of seeing him at Birmongham Town Hall with Ornett's trio.
    Steve Evans

  5. Shipp's work is very sophisticated, I think the appropriate comparison to Miles Davis, although his work does not have the same weight as the work of Miles, his sound is always seeking something new, looking to expand.

  6. Rodrigo, thanks for your comment – I just looked at the handwritten notes which I made at Shipp's Vortex concert, and my last words on the final page are … “v. sophisticated”!


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