Monday, May 11, 2015

Matthew Shipp and Mat Walerian Duo, The Uppercut, Live at Okuden

The music of today continues. It continues in a seminal gathering of the central piano playing of Matthew Shipp and his duo-mate for the album at hand, Polish reedist Mat Walerian. It's a live date from Okuden. The Uppercut (ESP 5007) gives us a good 70 minutes of the two exploring freely and creatively some common ground. As William Parker reminds us in the liners to this album, if you are not familiar with Mat Walerian, forget who he studied with or that sort of thing, just listen! Well I took that advice because I must admit I have not had much experience with Walerian, and it turns out to be sage advice indeed.

Walerian has roots in bluesiness and freedom. His playing on alto, bass clarinet, alto clarinet and flute throughout the set has a clarion tone with a touch of breathiness. That and the rootsy-ness and soul of his stance opens up a complementary response in the considerably versatile Shipp. So we get a freedom strongly colored with a certain sanctification that is a very good thing to hear.

As always Matthew Shipp these days has a very horizontal, directional foresight in what he does. He swings, lopes along, punctuates and lingers over spontaneous phrases now and then before moving ahead again. Mat Walerian opens up his phrasings to long-form horizontal constructions that complement what Matt is doing, and too on occasion lingers over a phrase now and again before moving ahead.

This is a very strong duo session that confirms Shipp as one of the important original piano masters of today, a player who uniquely channels the history of the music into his own free approach. And Walerian complements and feeds into that slipstream of past and present that Matt deals with so well. If there is a pattern to the latest Matthew Shipp albums it has a two-pronged forkedness, so to speak: it's to do with a sort of resynthesizing of all that has gone into his musical mind over the years, the pianistic lifeways of Duke-Monkdom and how Matthew has taken their freedom and made something very much Shippian out of it. That's too simplified because there is much more to Matthew's style. Then there is Matthew in his second aspect: moving ahead with where he is now. Mat Walerian in a duo setting seems very timely though because Shipp seems to be recharging his present by revisiting roots and Walerian has that way about him right now, too. At the same time there is space for the "moving ahead" to be heard here as well. And Walerian follows with creative playing responses in both situations.

And so the melding of the two on this date seems especially right. If a pedal-point in the bass and fourth chordings remind us that the present also has roots in nearer past masters there is no contradiction, especially when neither Matthew nor Mat are quoting as much as making it personal and new. None of us comes down from the sky. We all make that of what we hear into something we can hear differently, given much preparation and talent. That's what in part is so phenomenally creative about Matthew Shipp's playing. It not only goes out, it comes out of somewhere with a clear original direction. Mat Walerian has that about him, too. So that makes for some great duet interactions.

Listen and feel the strength of this music!


  1. Thank you so much for recommending this brilliant recording. Such a fascinating album! Regards, Pauly.

  2. Glad you found it as I did, Pauly! Brilliant indeed! Thanks for your comment!
    All best,