The Matthew Shipp Trio is one such artist/group. Here we are with a new one, The Conduct of Jazz (Thirsty Ear THI 57211.2). It is worthy and moving in ways that the Shipp Trio has been for a long time. Yet it is not entirely business-as-usual, not an eternal resurrection of the something that makes Shipp Trios exceptional. Yet there is continuity, yes.
One thing that stands out is the new addition to the personnel. Sure of course there is Matthew and the titan strength of Michael Bisio on bass. But this is the first recording with drummer Newman Taylor Baker. Using one drummer in place of another can sometimes change the thrust of the band dramatically. Think of the classic Trane Quartet with Elvin Jones, then with Roy Haynes on some of those dates when Elvin was unavailable. The band is playing in much the same mode, often enough the same pieces, but the result is influenced greatly by the change in percussive approach.
I would not go so far to say that replacing Whit Dickey with Newman leads to such radical change, but then that classic Trane quartet is so internalized for me and many of us that the presence of Haynes seems like a very different animal and is easily heard.
Newman Taylor Baker adds a very different drumming personality to the threesome. He plays time in his own very swinging way and his "free" and solo playing have an almost orchestral sense of drum sound possibilities, not to mention impeccable timing and sense of dialog. And the way he does all that shifts the trio's emphasis a bit.
Another thing maybe is the classical logic of Matthew's compositions. The whole album remains in the advanced trio zone, for sure, yet the compositional elements both make use of repetition in increasingly emphatic ways but also show roots going as far back as Duke, which is not surprising given the trio over time yet it nonetheless is a prime foundational element. The playing of the trio, Matt holding forth beautifully but Michael and Newman forming an integral lock to the three-tiered sound, is ever fresh, maybe also quite readily grasped by the listener perhaps not as much up on the "new new thing" jazz today as may be the case with other ears.
And there is lots of variety--an out rocking number, abstractions with razor sharp clarity and a nod to those greats that came before, transposed uniquely to the Shipp way of going about things.
Put all that together and you get a set that holds your ears in concentrated interest. And yes, it is smoking, always.
Is this the album that defines Matt Shipp and the Trio today? Sure, in part, though what is to come will continue to do that.
It is an album that should get attention for how it communicates vividly without compromising the spirit-essence of the Shipp way. He is one of the most important pianists on the scene now and this trio is essential in no lesser sense.
Don't miss out on the future of the present. It is here. It is very present on The Conduct of Jazz. Do not pass this one by!