Thursday, April 23, 2020

Matthew Shipp, The Piano Equation, Solo Piano

The solo improvisatory flight, especially in the freedom realm, involves if a good outing the ecstasy of possibility and the intuitive rightness of choice. That just means that in every moment the improviser makes her or his technical mechanics articulate what the improviser imagines, intuits and invents out of the moment. The idea of "making it all anew," to create channels in the stream of momentum, it is always there in some way when things go well, and each outing somehow in such cases synthesizes and expands an underpinning of root vocabulary, creating a musical series of sayings from the immediate act of intending. Something like that.

Pianist Matthew Shipp is one of the present-day masters of making spontaneous excellence out of these doing-being elements. His latest solo outing, The Piano Equation (Tao Forms TAO 01) gives us eleven segments of testificatory sublimity that bring to us this art in its highest form. Given that as I write this while the COVID-19 pandemic is in full swing, as our decentered times plunge us into the need for social distancing, solitude, cautionary solo living, what better way to value the art of being alone than in this superior offering? It fits our time, surely.

What seems especially salient, important, special about this outing is not something entirely new to Matthew Shipp the solo artist, not at all. That is his deep rootedness in the music over time. I've heard throughout the years in Matthew's playing the channeled spirits of Monk, Duke, maybe Elmo Hope and Randy Weston, somebody mentioned the other day Earl Hines, Matthew himself mentioned McCoy Tyner (RIP) and I could make up a longer list but that is not as important as calling attention to Matthew's own kind of Blues and Roots, what he does with it, in other words. It is always there somewhere in his playing, and the music is all the better for it in how he remakes it all anew.

Always there, but on The Piano Equation we have an especially hefty helping of Matthew's own, free-based version of hard-swinging. It all swings. And with his touch being especially percussive I am reminded of the late Horace Silver in the sound and the relentless drive this set gives to us at key moments.

Listen to "Clown Pulse" and you get that hard-charging thing undiluted, straight without chaser. And then in other moments the swing implications are still there but expanded into other expressions and ways of harmonic-melodic saying. So for example there is a balladic sound going for "Land of the Secrets" and I hear a little rechanneling of Tadd Dameron, which to me is a fine thing indeed.

The beauty of it all is that the whole goes in various directions one could not predict in advance but the common thread remains. Then again, the last segment "Cosmic Juice" reminds us that the music has a future, always, and that the swinging can coexist happily with a venture into other spaces. Like a chiming clock we live all time inside us as well as without.

After all is said pianistically we think back upon what we have heard and shake our heads up and down. It is an affirmation that the music continues to live in thriving health in the person of Maestro Shipp. As long as we have ears and Matthew keeps his imaginative inventiveness rolling there is the art at its finest. There are some others still out there, too, of course. We have many reasons to be happy for the state-of-the art. So get this one if you want to take stock of where we are now. It is definitive testifying that we live in the music despite some very difficult times. Live on!

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