Friday, October 24, 2014

Matthew Shipp - I've Been to Many Places (Thirsty Ear, 2014)

Matthew Shipp's catalog as a solo pianist becomes more impressive by the year. While he works well as a leader or a sideman in a variety of musical configurations, it is in the solo setting that he lays bare his soul in an in intimate and powerful manner. The title of this album is accurate, because he has indeed been in many places as a solo artist, recording American songbook and jazz standards in addition to a few pop songs and his own protean originals and free improvisations. All of that is on display here, whether he is deconstructing the Gershwin chestnut "Summertime" like a demented surgeon, hinting at the familiar melody, but swooping and diving over and through the keyboard, taking a fresh and uniquely personal approach to this familiar song. Another surprising inclusion is the soul and pop song "Where Is The Love" originally recorded by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway in in 1972. It may seem like a perverse entry, this song that had topped the Billboard easy listening charts for goodness sake. But it proves Shipp's innate ability to take any form of musical clay, be it a completely spontaneous improvisation or a cheesy pop song and make a moving statement from it. As he did on the Gershwin composition, he weaves the melody in and out of the song this two separate short readings of the music. One of the keys to the success of the album is the brevity of the songs, with only the title track "I've Been to Many Places" topping five minutes in length. But it is also a blast to hear Shipp rip into music of his own devising like on "Brain Stem Grammar" which takes a Monk like fractured approach to set up a storming improvisation using his powerful approach to the lower end of the piano, rolling thunderous waves of sound that contrast and frame some of the lighter sections. "Web Play" toys with a gentle music box type melody before the forceful attack of Mr. Shipp takes the music in another direction. This was another excellent album from Matthew Shipp. Much like Cecil Taylor, he continues to investigate the possibilities of solo piano even while working in other formations that range from duo to full ensemble. I've Been to Many Places -

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