Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Matthew Shipp performing with his trio at the Blue Note on Monday night.

Songs That Are Keyed to Slipping, Sliding and Quivering


Published: August 29, 2007

Jazz musicians often title their songs offhandedly, with a kind of disinterested shrug. The pianist Matthew Shipp puts more thought into the process, judging by a few of his recent compositions. “Slips Through the Fingers,” for example. Or “Sliding Through Space,” or “Quivering With Speed.” All three titles appear side by side on Mr. Shipp’s new studio album.

On Monday night, to celebrate the release of the album — “Piano Vortex” (Thirsty Ear), yet another kinetic phrase — Mr. Shipp led his trio through two sets at the Blue Note. The first took the form of a persuasive suite, with no momentum-sapping interruptions. It also underscored the functional bond between Mr. Shipp and the rhythm section of Joe Morris on bass and Whit Dickey on drums.

Mr. Shipp puts a high premium on slippery subversions; his obduracy has more to do with artful dissonance than with blunt impact. Near the middle of the set, on a theme called “The New Circumstance,” he chimed a series of spiraling chords in 7/4 meter. With bass and drums rustling fast beneath him, that passage momentarily evoked the pianist and composer Andrew Hill.

Elsewhere there were dark rumbles, slow-building crescendos and the occasional spry syncopation. One engaging section delivered the boppish pianism of Bud Powell. Throughout the set Mr. Shipp guided the trio with both hands on the keyboard, allocating equal time to portentous chords and silvery arpeggios.

Mr. Morris, an esteemed avant-garde guitarist, is less authoritative a bassist than William Parker, Mr. Shipp’s longtime collaborator. Putting aside that unfair comparison, Mr. Morris was effective as both foundation and foil: in his spidery walking bass lines, especially, he imbued the music with a useful twinge of unease. His bowing was more of an outright irritant, perhaps not entirely on purpose.

Mr. Dickey was more responsive in his interactions, creating a dialogue with both bass and piano. Texturally, he enlisted everything from a raspy murmur of brushes to a fierce bashing of cymbals, as warranted by the flow of improvisation. And he was the picture of composure, often sitting motionless, except for an octopus-like undulation of limbs.

As is often his custom, Mr. Shipp closed the set with a familiar theme. Here it was “Someday My Prince Will Come,” the Disney-generated waltz that Miles Davis helped transform into a jazz standard. Mr. Shipp subjected it to some barbed pointillism, seemingly with a purpose in mind.

Where most interpretations of the song focus on its sense of dreamy longing, this one convincingly sounded a note of anxiety. So that “someday” in the title felt a bit less comforting. Suppose the prince’s name is Godot and you get the idea.

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