The Uppercut: Matthew Shipp Mat Walerian Duo – Live at Okuden (2015)

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Back in the 1960s “New Thing” heyday of highly improvisational jazz, the fledgling label ESP-Disk introduced to American and international audiences many new, acutely innovative artists such as Albert Ayler, Milford Graves, Giuseppi Logan, Sunny Murray and Henry Grimes. With its April 28, 2015 release of Live at Okuden by the Matthew Shipp Mat Walerian Duo (aka, “The Uppercut”), ESP seeks to do it again.

Matthew Shipp is a known quantity in improvised music circles, of course, but in recent years he’s performed some duet concerts with Mat Walerian, a woodwinds player from Poland, virtually unknown on American shores. Largely self-taught, Walerian’s articulation is steeped in modern jazz, be-bop, classical and Eastern music forms.

Taken from a 2012 performance, Live at Okuden captures Walerian engaging in extemporaneous musical conversation with one of the acknowledged masters of the form, and easily makes his impact alongside his better-known brethren. Like Shipp, Walerian distills all the genres of his influence into something profoundly genre-less: “This music is more concerned with poetics because it is poetics, not technique or academics, that will allow the music to go inside and change the soul of the listener,” writes improvised music giant William Parker in his liner notes for this album. “Mat Walerian plays some of the most lovely and relaxed uncompromised beauty that I have ever heard in a long time.”

Manning a bass clarinet on “Introduction,” one can sense that beauty that reaches back decades to find the roots of jazz, where it coincides with the blues; Shipp’s own fully-chorded enunciations remind of that in case Walerian didn’t. “Blues For Acid Cold” even connects blues to the avant-garde, a perfect setting for Walerian to play in a blues-y fashion with measured “out” deliberations before Shipp pushes things into a more explicitly blues direction.

“It’s Sick Out There” gets going when Shipp locates a three chord groove and plays variations on it while Walerian (on alto sax) plays liquid and outside in a very emotional, natural cadence, selectively picking his spots to get abrasive for maximal impact. He swings like a champ on “Peace And Respect” and for “Black Rain,” where he plays both clarinet and flute, he demonstrates a spare but elegiac quality while staying closely attuned to Shipp’s ever-evolving mood.

Poland has had its share of uncommonly creative voices from the field broadly known as ‘jazz.’ Following in the heritage Krzysztof Komeda and Tomasz Stanko while forging his own path, Mat Walerian — like his American partner Shipp — has so much to say musically with an uncommonly fresh vocabulary. As a vehicle for this promising talent, Live at Okuden makes good on that promise.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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