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Who is Matthew Shipp? The clamorous sideman whose flooded bed of piano provided David S. Ware's ideal launching pad for so many years? The ingenious curator of the "Blue Series," Thirsty Ear's superb, wide-ranging set of jazz-affiliated releases? The open-eared electronics fan who allowed programmer FLAM and hip-hop group the Anti-Pop Consortium to impose helpful limitations on his rhythmic patterns? The ardent conversationalist whose collaborations with violinist Matt Maneri and'"especially'"bassist William Parker are minor masterpieces of chamber jazz communication? The ruminative solo tone colorist on One?
Duh'"all of the above. The truth is, Shipp's style, though flexible enough to thrive in each of these contexts, has been consistent throughout'"tempering the avant-classical pounding of Cecil Taylor with the blues-wise finesse of Monk and a post-hip-hop reconciliation of noise and rhythm. Still, Shipp's restless and experimental nature has made it possible to overlook his melodic ingenuity, and Piano Vortex is a good place to re-examine that side of him, in an acoustic trio. Unlike many of Shipp's higher profile collaborators, drummer Whit Dickey and bassist Joe Morris support the pianist rather than outright challenging him. But that's not a complaint'"such a set-up is a pleasant change for Shipp, and for those of us who want to hear what he can do.
Granted, that means Vortex neither strives for nor reaches the heights of Shipp's abilities. I still prefer Harmony and Abyss, not to mention the straight-up electronic Nu-Bop. But that's the beauty of Matthew Shipp'"there's a Matthew Shipp for all of us. And each of him is worthy of your acquaintance.