Through his piano, Matthew Shipp lays down some terse, succinct truths and observations in a new collection of mostly original solo piano performances rightly called Piano Sutras.
Nowadays, we’re seeing a lot of jazz pianists make solo piano records, including those by some exceptional performers. Shipp himself did one such record only three years ago, 4D. 4D was one of the very few solo piano records to come out in recent times that is truly compelling from beginning to end. Shipp rises above the crowded field of such naked piano excursions by others because his phraseology is entirely his own. There’s purpose in his playing: each notion or expression he makes sets up the next one. He plumbs the emotional depths of his instrument with, paradoxically, sharp intellect.
Piano Sutras contains a baker’s dozen of performances, none of them so long as to degrade into pointless wanking. Shipp summons ideas on the spot, never self-conscience of whether they’re tonal or atonal, or even if they are jazz, classical or some other style. And he always knows when to stop. It’s broadly piano music, and he traverses over that entire wide landscape to find the right notes, motifs and progressions to build a coherent strain.
“Piano Sutras,” to give an example, stays loosely rooted in a key while he finds meaning within the music in the delicate way he presents the chords and the cadence he applies to them. The strategy for “Surface To A Curve” is an episodic one, placing a lot of emphasis on notes not played, which raises the profile of the ones that are; he packs of lot of mood shaping figures in less than four minutes. “Blue To A Point” is a blues at the core but with some interesting, non-blues chords added.
Shipp creates contrasting moods on “Uncreated Light,” ominous, dark chords answered by quiet, ruminating ones. “Angelic Brain Cell” also has shades of opacity, and quick, dense runs blended with abrupt stops and breathing spaces. “The Indivisible” lays down thick slabs of ivory that Shipp is wise to not let overwhelm the listener, but enough to get his attention. Contrast that with the fragile beauty of “Space Bubble,” a deft economy of notes conveying a hopeful, meditative peace.
Just two brief renditions of other people’s songs are found here: “Giant Steps” is played straight but Shipp slows it down so it’s possible to appreciate what a wonderful song construction John Coltrane devised with this song. The melody from Wayne Shorter’s “Nefertiti” is unmistakable, too, but Shipp adds a little something to it with appregiated chords.
With all the solo piano records being made today, it’s fair to ask if there are more than enough of such recordings. When it comes to Matthew Shipp, there are never enough of them. Piano Sutras is a worthy companion to 4D.