Monday, January 11, 2010

Piano Front & Center (Part 1)

4D - Matthew Shipp (Thirsty Ear) - There are few contemporary pianists like Matthew Shipp.  He's one of those players whose style one cannot easily pigeonhole and one who, I think, is best served in a solo setting.  I know he's made dozens of recordings in small group settings (many of them are quite good) but it's really fun to listen to him alone.

At just under an hour, "4D" should really be listened to uninterrupted. Nothing is overworked or overbaked and, depending on your mood, you'll hear new things on each listen. The title track opens the program and sets the stage.  Melodic and forceful, yet contemplative and exploratory, the piece is a guide to Shipp's probing mind.  He's been on the scene for over 2 decades and  keeps the listener off-guard and interested with his choices. Later in the program, Shipp plays several standards such as "Autumn Leaves" (a take reminiscent of Art Tatum in the way the pianist moves the rhythm along and dances through the melody) and a probing version of "Prelude to a Kiss." There's also a "deconstruction" of "Frere Jacques" and a short (:54) and sweet "What A Friend We Have in Jesus."  If these tracks (plus "Greensleeves" and "What is This Thing Called Love?") were placed upfront on the disk, one might think these are pieces that have influenced Shipp's development.  Instead, coming in the second half of the program, and the fact he's not a novice, I believe this is just the way the pianist's mind works when he sits at the keyboard. Shipp knows exactly what he is doing and the listener is free to interpret the "why?" anyway he or she wants.

Matthew Shipp is intelligent, assured and outspoken (his interview with David Adler in the January/February issue of JazzTimes is enlightening and provocative - read it here) and one can hear it in his music.  He displays no fear, no worry about his place in the jazz continuum, no making it palatable for gentle ears - drop your expectations when you come to "4D", get into Shipp's flow and the rewards are great.  For more information, go to

1 comment:

  1. Excellent assessment; you clear the way for good listening!