The Uppercut: Live at Okuden
Pianist Matthew Shipp and saxophonist/clarinetist/flutist Mat Walerian hail from different generations and different nations. The Delaware-born Shipp is north of 50; the Polish-born Walerian, barely 30. Yet, throughout The Uppercut: Live at Okuden, they’re uncannily in tune with each other. At times on the album, culled from a 2012 performance in Walerian’s home country, they sound like youthful renegades breaking down barriers with the power of their sound. During others, they come across as wise elders.
The moniker slapped on “Introduction” hardly does justice to the swinging first track. Walerian coaxes a saucy tone from his reed as Shipp vamps behind him in a straightforward (for him) manner that barely hints at his avant-garde bona fides. Likewise, “Blues for Acid Cold” sticks with the title form more assiduously than might be expected.
That changes when Shipp’s left-hand thunder plunges the pair into “Jungle Meditation” and a couple of “Free Bop” statements that find Walerian channeling New Orleans by way of Eastern Europe. The adventure continues on “It’s Sick Out There,” an aural joust during which Walerian races to keep up with Shipp’s speediest fingerwork, and on “Love and Other Species,” which is marked by the session’s wildest, most passionate playing.
“Peace and Respect” and “Black Rain” are more pastoral in comparison, yet no less creatively rigorous. When Shipp veers into a martial pattern on the latter, Walerian finds a complementary approach so quickly that it soon becomes impossible to determine who’s leading whom. Was Walerian’s subsequent decision to switch to the flute the inspiration for Shipp to paint with more delicate colors? Or did it happen the other way around? And does it really matter?
Certainly not on the aptly named “Encore.” The piece is jaunty and joyous, encapsulating the sound of two superior musicians for whom age and cultural differences mean nothing. —Michael Roberts