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Art of the Improviser

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Album Review

Since the late 1980s, pianist Matthew Shipp has been rigorously investigating what it means to be an improvising musician by creating a musical language that is as expansive as it is intuitive emotionally, cerebrally, and emotionally following his own path alongside those of his predecessors Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, Derek Bailey, Anthony Braxton, John Cage, and Morton Feldman. His explorations have taken him through jazz as a soloist, bandleader, and sideman to collaborative experiments with electronic sound and even modern classical music. He’s been prolific in documenting each chapter in his musical life. Art of the Improviser is a double-CD package containing two 2010 concert performances. Disc 1 places Shipp in a trio setting with bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey in Troy, NY, and the second disc is a solo recital from (Le Poisson) Rouge in New York City two months later. On the trio disc, Shipp reveals his strengths as both a bandleader and collaborator. The rumbling modal opening of “The New Fact” quickly gives way to a syncopated, jagged swing as his piano jots telegraphic lines to Dickey, who follows and accents intuitively while Bisio balances them with a swaying but unbending bridge. Shipp moves through various periods in jazz history, from Jelly Roll Morton and Art Tatum to Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, and Horace Tapscott. Elsewhere on disc one, his pieces “Circular Temple #3” and “The Virgin Complex” are given strident readings with their original melodies harmonically extrapolated onto new ones, with improvisation interspersed like links in a chain. The lone standard on disc one, “Take the 'A' Train,” is performed with Shipp's angular harmonic language without losing its swing or fingerpopping melodic identity. The solo recital on disc two also features one standard, “Fly Me to the Moon,” which begins as an extension of Shipp’s recent composition, the gloriously physical “4D.” And indeed it might as well be, because of the way he pulls the melody from the changes, angles them at one another, and inserts his own series of intervallic questions at the ends of phrases, taking them through labyrinthine passages before returning to here he left off. “Gamma Ray” extrapolates on Thelonious Monk's black key lyricism while “Patmos” is a lower- and middle-register song employing Eastern tonalities and modalism. Art of the Improviser serves as a testament to Shipp’s achievements, yet it is also a continuation of the discovery in his developmental musical language.


Born: 07 December 1960 in Wilmington, DE

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

With his unique and recognizable style, pianist Matthew Shipp worked and recorded vigorously from the late '80s onward, creating music in which free jazz and modern classical intertwined. He first became well known in the early '90s as the pianist in the David S. Ware Quartet, and soon began leading his own dates -- most often including Ware bandmate and leading bassist William Parker -- and recording a number of duets with a variety of musicians, from the legendary Roscoe Mitchell to violinist Mat...
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Art of the Improviser, Matthew Shipp
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