The risk for gifted artists as prolific as pianist Matthew Shipp is that a new recording may seem like a typical dispatch from a constant correspondent rather than a noteworthy event. But before shrugging off Signature after a cursory spin — “Ho-hum, another first-rate Matthew Shipp album” — give it a second listen, and a third. Those who do will likely emerge with renewed appreciation for an artist as fascinating as he is reliable.
This time, Shipp teams with drummer Newman Taylor Baker and bassist Michael Bisio, the members of his regular trio, and their familiarity makes the material’s spontaneous twists and shifts feel both logical and inevitable. Take the opening title cut, which eschews the sort of blood and thunder of which the players are capable in favor of quiet confidence. The number begins with a tender pattern from Shipp, who lingers lovingly over each note prior to the entrance of Baker and Bisio. The latter opt for subtle accents and lovingly framed colorizing that enhance the beauty of Shipp’s constructions instead of overwhelming them.
Things get wilder after that. “Deep to Deep” is essentially a fragmentary bass drone that draws the listener into the next cut, “Flying Saucer,” during which Shipp displays the jaw-dropping technique for which he’s justly renowned. Flurries of dramatic tones and pounding chords alternately swirl, blend and fly apart as Baker and Bisio use their instruments to thrust, probe and support. Similarly paired are the interstitial percussion piece “Snap” and “The Way,” a knotty meander that finds the three cohorts at their most mischievous. Other standouts include the curiously swinging “Stage Ten,” the roiling “Zo #2” and “This Matrix,” a concluding opus that spans worlds and dimensions over 16-plus glorious minutes.
Listeners have come to expect moments like these from Shipp. But they’re still worth celebrating. — Michael Roberts
Featured photo by Anna Yatskevich.