Matthew Shipp – Art of the Improviser
(Thirsty Ear, CD Review by Rob Grundel)
The signature denseness of the opening chord proclaims that, yes, this is Matthew Shipp. Art of the Improviser is a two CD set recorded live with drummer Whit Dickey and bassist Michael Bisio. There is such a volume of ideas, across the length of the record, that the direction may veer three or four times within a single song. The inspired playing renders any perceptions of loftiness in the album’s title misplaced.
There is one set per CD, one with the trio and the other solo. Each set is unbroken – it moves seamlessly from song to solo to song. Ordinarily, when given the choice, I lean toward the fuller sound but Matthew Shipp unfettered of sidemen (no matter how capable) is a phenomenon, albeit a polarising one. I would urge those listeners who are not convinced by the recording to seek out videos of his playing online (or even better, live). After seeing his motion, interaction, reaction to the moment, his playing makes absolute sense and is mesmerising.
His treats standards not as templates but merely as sparks to start a mostly unrecognisable fire. Take the A Train is utterly chaotic and Fly Me To The Moon is played like a rough fugue in Glenn Gouldian fashion.
Shipp’s playing is messy and often loud. He uses the entire range of the keyboard (sometimes at once) and has a fondness for low-end chords. However you rate his technique – it has been forged by experience and is uncompromising.
Bisio’s 5 minute bass solo on the opener The New Fact is superb as well as being the quietest period on the record. The chorus on Wholetone, when it comes around, is always a refreshing resolution to the bending and twisting that precedes it; Module is a beautifully dark meditation; and the final unresolved moments of Patmos, also the final moments of the record, signal that Matthew Shipp’s adventures in music will continue on.
This record is one of Shipp’s best. It demands repeated listens, is filled with nuance and is a complete statement of where the pianist is artistically at this point in time.
Rob Grundel is a Londoner from Tasmania, and his Diminished Augmented blog is recommended.