Matthew Shipp – 4D (2010)

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by Mark Saleski

Over the years I have spent many pen scrawls, pencil swipes, and keystrokes trying to describe what it is about ‘out’ music that moves me so much.

Sometimes it’s pretty easy, especially if you take the case of somebody like saxophone terrorist Peter Brotzmann. The man plays with so much force that it’s downright frightening. I have to listen to my Brotzmann records all by my lonesome because most people who know me are offended at the animalistic sounds. I don’t hold it against them.

On the quieter end of things, there are pianists such as Keith Jarrett, who can and does play quite ‘out,’ but it’s more of a meandering, “How did I get here & how am I going to get back? Oh, I haven’t listened to Edith Piaf in a long time”-kind of thing. It’s an acquired taste, but it won’t leave you feeling brutalized.

Matthew Shipp isn’t exactly in the middle of these two extremes, but he does have a ways of dealing with both sides of the ‘out’ coin that make him a unique talent. As I’ve said many times before, having “big ears” gives an artist a big advantage, especially when it comes to incorporating disparate materials into the creative process. There have been times when Shipp has been a part of some truly spectacular visions of this sort. He was a member of David S. Ware’s Go See The World ensemble (along with Susie Ibarra and William Parker) — and they took the pretty melody of “The Way We Were” apart. No, it did not go back together again.

Which brings me to 4D. This is a Shipp solo piano record that puts his wide range of ideas on display. The sequencing is interesting, with the program front-loaded with originals, followed by a handful of standards and other things. Taken as a whole, it gives the impression of these spinning ideas slamming into some well-known pieces of music. The result is a gentle sort of chaos.

The title track begins with a somewhat circular figure with chords cradling underneath. As Shipp moves and extends this theme of sorts, he pauses to add in a few more lyrical passages before indulging in some beautiful use of the booming lower register. The dissonance just blooms from down there. There are a few times during the initial selections where it seems as though Shipp is taking cues from the Thelonius Monk from the Beyond.

Compositions like “Teleportation” and “The Crack In The Piano’s Egg” come at their ideas with a ton of angularity and percussive attack. This effect is maximized on the last tune of the first group of nine compositions (I so wanted to say “Side 1” there) with “Blue Web In Space.” Here Shipp breaks apart clusters with endings moving an octave away, left-hand comments adding an instigating quality. Strangely enough, swing is attained in the middle of all of this. It’s a Monk-ish sort of swing, the best kind in my opinion.

Side 2 (Oh, why not?!) starts with the classic “What Is This Thing Called Love?” Much like “The Way We Were,” Shipp takes the source material and pushes it into several different shapes. It makes me think of somebody playing post office, with the music idea being passed around to several musicians. Some might say that Shipp is taking advantage of Cole Porter here, but that sort of misses the point. Existing musical ‘things’ can and deserve to be explored from alternate angles.

Bookended by a slightly less ‘out’ take on “Autumn Leaves” and an Aaron Copeland by way of Cecil Taylor on acid version of “Frere Jacques,” is the original track “Sequence and Vibration.” With its twisty passes and cat & mouse playfulness, the tune almost feels like an intermission. That doesn’t mean it’s a letdown, but more of a period of transition.

4D plays out with an interesting suite of four tunes, breaking up what I was sure was going to be a harsh/not-so-harsh pattern. After the madness of “Frere Jacques,” Shipp gives a fairly straight reading of “Prelude To A Kiss,” followed by 54 seconds of “What A Friend We Have In Jesus.” The wide-open arpegiations of “Primal Harmonic” then serve as a pensive introduction to the closing “Greensleeves,” during which Shipp falls back and forth between traditional tunesmithing and percussive ivory abuse. It’s an exhilarating (and slightly unsettling) way to end things; the interleaving of ‘normal’ and ‘not’ here gives the final set of tune a very David Lynch quality.

As you can see, there’s a lot of stuff going in throughout 4D. It’s very difficult to get to the truth of why Matthew Shipp’s music can move a person, especially since there are so many flavors of ‘out.’ Your ears may not actually be thirsty for this kind of thing, but you’ll never know unless you give it a try.

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