Monday, March 30, 2015

Matthew Shipp Trio - To Duke (Rogue Art, 2015)

Conventional wisdom states that Matthew Shipp is a “free-jazz” or “avant-guard” musician. But in truth he is a wide ranging and thoughtful pianist and composer who as Duke Ellington himself would undoubtably say is “beyond category.” This is a thoughtful and quite beautiful tribute that takes his well known melodies with a hint of reverence, but then moves beyond them to to create pithy personal statements. He is ably supported by longtime colleagues Michael Bisio on bass and Whit Dickey on drums. After a short introduction called “Farewell to Duke” the trio dives into some of the most well known compositions of the Ellington canon. Shipp’s deeply percussive attack and use of the entire piano makes him uniquely qualified to place a personal stamp on the music. “In a Sentimental Mood” is re-imagined as a mysterious performance where the whole trio flirts with the melody, and then takes liberties from the inspiration that it provides. The jaunty melody of “Satin Doll” is nearly danceable before the group begins to gleefully deconstruct it. There is a great sense of the band having fun, like the Ellington tunes are old friends that they can celebrate with shared knowledge and trust. This sense continues on the chestnut “Take the A-Train” with some wonderfully fast paced bass work from Bisio and hard-charging piano from Matthew Shipp, playing the low end of the piano very hard to give the music a forceful percussive feeling that drives the music forward. “Mood Indigo” quite subtle with Dickey switching to brushes as the trio gently swings the ballad. Shipp returns to the ballad form on "Prelude to a Kiss" taking this as a solo piano feature and playing the song with grace and tact. "Sparks" comes barreling out of the gate with storming trio interplay. Elastic bass and drums stretch and pull as necessary and allowing Shipp to fly free in his torrid improvisational exploration. This is a very wonderful and consistently exciting album, where the listener is consistently surprised with the way that the trio interprets and deconstructs this well known standards. Duke would be quite proud. To Duke -

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