Matthew Shipp Quartet – Sonic Fiction (2018)

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The recent rise of Polish reedman Mat Walerian — an album in each of the last three years — has been closely tied to his association with Matthew Shipp. At some point the vastly talented and original Walerian will probably venture outside of his collaborations with the pianist but the possibilities of their partnership hadn’t yet been exhausted. Shipp’s Sonic Fiction for the first time records Walerian in a quartet setting, rounded out by Shipp stalwarts Michael Bisio (bass) and Whit Dickey (drums).

The expanded combo size affords Walerian the opportunity to interact with a full rhythm section, instead of either drums or bass but not both. It’s hard to find a combination that could beat Dickey and Bisio, who are not only elite individually, but have worked together behind Shipp since 2011’s Art Of The Improviser. With the familiarity and the telepathy that results from that already built-in everywhere else, this wasn’t going to be a steep learning curve.

In a program of ten originals where nine are kept precise at tidy lengths, it’s the tenth one that best exemplifies how well Walerian has made himself at home within Shipp’s trio to make it a true quartet. “Sonic Fiction” is the only extended composition, where he and Shipp improvise on parallel tracks. What is remarkable is how they are able to maintain their own distinctive voices concurrently, never colliding into each other. Next, Walerian tests his rapport with Bisio now on bowed bass and at one point his alto sax squeals approximate the squeaks of Bisio’s bow happening at the same time. Before the performance gets a chance to lose steam, Shipp re-enters with a cue to the quartet that it’s time to swing, and Walerian responds with the leader, finding harmony in the jazz heritage they both deeply respect.

The shorter performances packs these dynamics together tighter; Walerian’s meditative approach taken on the opener “First Step” is already altering the approach of the other three, an alto sax that uniquely speaks in a familiar, traditional tongue but also reaching for notes outside the traditional realm. He structures his expressions like paragraphs and the remaining participants respond in kind. The freer “Line of Energy” is lively, spontaneous interaction that passes the simpatico test with flying colors.

“3 by 4” is a temporary return to the ol’ Shipp/Bisio/Dickey trio, Shipp feeling feisty and the rhythm section responding in just the right measure. Walerian sizes all this up and makes his entrance halfway through, jumping into the fray and offering mostly elongated notes to counter Shipp’s downpour of notes. Walerian also bides his time for “Blues Addition” but this time, Shipp sets the table in a more relaxed, melodic fashion and the Pole shows up sporting a clarinet. And he’s playing with a fervent blues connotation that commands such respect that Shipp and Dickey fade out to give him and Bisio the floor. Walerian also goes clarinet (bass clarinet, to be specific) for “The Station,” but this time he’s the once defining the song’s parameters with an unaccompanied narration for the entirety of the song. It’s a composed performance that also probing, very much the way he typically expresses himself (“Easy Flow” is Shipp’s turn at a soliloquy).

In keeping with the democratic design of the combo, everyone’s role is critical. “The Problem of Jazz” underlines Bisio’s bass dexterity, and Dickey’s part in the overall tonality of the group sound way exceeds his timekeeping responsibilities.

With the singularly outsized saxophone and clarinet personality of Mat Walerian in the mix, Matthew Shipp has found a plenty good justification for going back to a quartet. Sonic Fiction v is now available at all the usual record outlets, courtesy of by ESP-Disk.


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 [email protected] .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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