Saturday, March 6, 2010

Matthew Shipp: 4D

Update note. Mr Shipp will be featured by the BBC tomorrow, 3/8.

In all the roiling Shipp-troversy, there is a trend toward focus on his expressed exasperation with lopsided compensation and conditions issues while tip toeing around what he's actually up to with a piano. All manner of scribbler acrobatics have ensued of which, the funniest is probably the Utne Reader guy's crack at mimicry of Fox 'gotcha journalism' by juxtaposing two general philosophical outlook statements by Mr Shipp and a frequent target of his derision, the uber pompous Mr. Jarrett.

Poor Utne Reader guy is seemingly so excited at his stab at gotcha contrivance that he forgets to consider how similar philosophical outlooks can drive very different outcomes depending on the aims of the respective outlook holders. And yet that should be the heart of the matter which 
4D addresses.

Mr. Shipp is essentially the anti Jarrett which to me is a very good thing. Matthew manages to cram more engagement and stimulation into several short minutes of a piece than Jarrett wrings from an hour of soporific minor melody cliche fests and postures. In fact, if you are stuck in some situation where Jarrett drool is close to inducing narcolepsy, a few minutes of Mr. Shipp works like an ear opener.

One only has to note that the entire release consists of fairly short pieces, 16 of them, each quite distinct even if there are some groupings of commonalities to indicate specific areas where Mr. Shipp finds particularly lucid musings. This short piece thing is a subtle if pointed assertion about pianistry options. There are ten original works and six classics.

Once upon a time, as a young dumb kid, I actually paid real money for the brand new Jarrett at Koln ECM double record extravaganza and boy I thought I had something. God, did that thing ever turn out to suck. It would put Cook's brother Cliffie, an innocent bystander, into a drowsy mode of a hot summers day and then we'd have to unravel his snoring. I gave it away to a harmless dancer friend as the dancer circuit does like stuff like that to prance to.

It pretty well marked the beginning of the end for any confidence I might have in the ECM 'brand' and they tended to reinforce the trend with each new vapid pastel monstrosity they trotted out from Burton, Metheny, Eberhard Weber and so on. And Jarrett hovered above it all like their ultimate poster child for coma inducing rambles. But that came out in the wash as it has a home as bed music on the Weather Channel.

4D, Mr. Shipp has further embarked on an engaging balance of effort at both the 'pianistic' side of the instrument as generally found in the works of such orishas as Tatum, James P. Johnson and Waller and the 'ensemble' side of the instrument first invented and codified by Earl Hines and brought to stunning levels by Bud Powell.

The run of 
4D moves through these two modes and at times skillfully interweaves them in a single piece in ways done by very few. Phineas Newborn, an early practitioner of this interweaving was derided in his day by period dumbos to the point of having a nervous breakdown. His crime was being too 'facile', code for 'we don't get it'. Matthew is in some ways a beneficiary of ground Mr. Newborn broke as our time's version of facile is more likely to be the simple minded flashiness and hollow ostentation one finds over in Jarrett land.

There is some thought given to sequencing and 
4D is like a miniature of miniatures, nearly every area of Matthews growth as a thinking pianist gets its hint in the opening. It is well tinged with blue with the melodic front and center. There is a meandering of slackwater stream stretches over tidewater terrain with surprises around each bend. Mr. Shipp does like to startle.

2. The Crack in the Piano's Egg.
The pianistic side rises here with deft darting turns on a dime bubbling through with these distinct remarkable abilities to turn melodic runs inside out in an instant to startle in a whole other way.

3. Equilibrium.
This turns to the hypnotic options of trance state conveyance with a melodic kernel that has a distant collective memory echo in the opening figure used to launch episodes of The Twilight Zone. It attends to the Hines side of pianistry laden with a deft left hand chord comp set against right hand flight ranging over the keyboard with touches of wistfulness interlaced.

4. Teleportation.
The sequence pendulum swing back to the Tatum side with elaborately interweaving syncopation fully engaging both hands contrasted by now and then chunky block chord clusters to cover surprise and then transitions to asymmetry and sudden solitary melody percolations before returning to the interweave kicked up a few notches in tempo.

5. Dark Matter.
The faded ghost of Giant Steps wafts here although with every other tone knocked out and transformed into a work of big sturdy cluster chords.

6. Stairs.
There is some companionship to Dark Matter in this with a more reflective, searching countenance and particularly vivid dynamic contrasts of striking suddenness and much ringing.

7. Jazz Paradox.
Note: If poor old Jarrett had to do this in the time allotted he'd probably go catatonic.This is a rush of acrobatics and sonic somersaults with an initial pianistic lean involving a liquidity of flow as of melody poured as it does a spider scamper toward a sudden shift to a minimalist percussive moment redolent of production line manufacturing contraptions to invoke tension before racing off to more melodic percolation of variation waves.

8. Blue Web In Space.
There are punchy pointillist punctuations to underscore the piece shaped with Ellington echo's in a new millennium form. The micro staccato expression of the melody momentum brings to bear yet a different scope for meticulousness.

9. What Is This Thing Called Love.
Leaps in with exuberant playfulness of genuine affection for the parent melody and trends toward the pianistic with clave makeovers that prove there is still considerable potential for expression in that timeless corner of piano craft.

10.Autumn Leaves.
This chestnut gets a lush ringing send up with full force floor shaking of a thing ringing robustly. Mr. Shipp offers up a new benchmark to those who have passed this way before. No wonder the majestic Ms McPartland finds so much to like about their get togethers.

11. Sequence and Vibration.
The simple title masks the likely role of a centerpiece statement. Where many of the compositions and renditions lean either toward the pianistic or the ensemble model, this works very well to incorporate both and is the longest work on the disc. It roams from introspective to exuberant. Melody cascades meet sudden tensions from percussive fixed points to be released into leaps and bounds.

12. Frere Jacques.
Having some fun, I see. It's an urgent appeal to get Jack outa bed to meet some crushing onrushing contingency. The playful choice of such a universal childs ring game melody is a great way to make another benchmark and connect to people. I imagine he could probably give 'Happy Birthday' a pretty impressive overhaul too. The arc of the rendition runs from chordal rumble to spiky pointillistics.

13. Prelude To A Kiss.
Blue tinged lushness and an honest romanticism make this a companion to Autumn Leaves. The Ellington immersion is well seeded with capacities to startle throughout.

14. What A Friend We Have In Jesus.
Succinct, glorious 'old school' gospel is served up fervently with earnest sincerity in case anyone might be wondering about his grounding in 'tradition' and it's subtly short and sweet at something that Jarrett would milk for an hour.

15. Primal Harmonic.
Another understated title is applied to lushness and fullness of sounds flowing like blowing snows of yesteryears outside wintry urban windows whirling toward tomorrow.

16. Greensleeves.
More fun with an old war horse makes a perfect capper to the fireworks and it's a floor shaker. These are some urgent thunderous Green Sleeves.

All in all, Mr. Shipp makes his case for the merits of his work and the exasperations born of its inept reception and sub par compensation. Those who would make much fuss over controversy miss the merit boat unless they actually sit down and focus on the work first. They got it ass backward in a clamor over empty social protocol observance that is rightly a minor footnote alongside the offerings Mr. Shipp consistently makes from the center of a piano stool.

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