Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Matthew Shipp: To Duke

Matthew Ship Trio: To Duke (Rogue Art)
Shipp (piano) Michael Bisio (bass) Whit Dickey (drums) recorded June 2014

I admit that I'm usually a bit suspicious of tribute albums, but the little I have heard from Matthew Shipp gave me the feeling that this album would be worth picking up.

Michael Bisio Whit Dickey The album features four pieces from Shipp alongside seven works by Ellington and his associates. The trio takes these songs to places they haven't been before and the album is full of interesting, unexpected twists and turns as melodic fragments or rhythms are seized upon and developed or cast aside. It's a very collective and interactive approach to playing as an ensemble (rather than head/solos with accompaniment/head). At times Shipp's melodic reconstructions, Dickey's rhythmic coloration and Bisio's counterpoint leave the impression that they are taking three different routes to the same destination.

The surging, runaway "Take the A Train" feels like it is not going to make any stops until finally winding down in the final minute. In between moments of dense chordal movements, uptempo swing and even a section that I could hear as part of a video game soundtrack, there are times when "Satin Doll" comes off as sounding relatively conventional. Bisio tackles "I Got it Bad and That Ain't Good" solo and as the piece opens there's a nice little salute to Charles Mingus. Dickey is featured throughout Shipp's "Dickey Duke" (I couldn't help but think of Frank Zappa's "America Drinks and Goes Home".... "Caravan with a drum solo? Right...yeah, we'll do that").

It's a testament to the compositions that they can withstand such flexible approaches. The improvisers deserve credit too as they approached these pieces in a fresh way - exploring the pieces without having to rely of gimmicks, such as elaborate arrangements or odd-time signature workouts (unless you consider the free approach with which they tackle the pieces itself a gimmick).

While Shipp has his own distinctive approach, he is coming from the Ellington lineage (I'll include pianists such as Thelonious Monk, Herbie Nichols, Andrew Hill, Cecil Taylor, Misha Mengelberg as part of that tradition.... who else am I missing?). This left me thinking, what are characteristics of the lineage?.... density, space, attack/articulation, a bittersweet quality, and personality - something to ponder. This album demonstrates a quality that Matthew Shipp shares with the likes on Monk, Nichols and Taylor: the ability to refer to tradition without rehashing it. Also, I hear some reminders of Connie Crothers too (check out the brief album-opening "Prelude to Duke").

Steve Dalachinsky contributes some nice liner notes too. His inclusion of some Bob Kaufman was particularly apt..... "the revisited soul is wrapped in the aura of familiarity."

Although I purchased this album on a whim, To Duke did not disappoint.


Unknown said...

Great pick! Shipp's trio recordings are essential for me and To Duke is a recent highlight. Interesting what you say about referring to tradition without rehashing it... in recent years i went on a bit of a fifties piano trio bender and filled in a lot of gaps in terms of stuff that i hadn't explored yet. During that time, i found it hard to listen to any contemporary trio recordings as they clashed with the fifties stuff flavour wise (worth noting that i usually don't have a problem jumping around eras with my listening). Except, i found, for Shipp. His recordings were not retro in the slightest but they could sit perfectly alongside stuff from the fifties.
Yes, Nichols, Hill and Taylor are clearly of a feather with Shipp... maybe Paul Bley as well? Elmo Hope?
Although not obviously similar, i also associate Shipp with Bud Powell. Maybe it's just that i hold them both in such high esteem.

AM said...

I can definitely hear some Bley in there too, but I don't associate Bley with Ellington nearly as much as the others. Thanks for stopping by.