Elastic Aspects the Matthew Shipp Trio

Matthew Shipp
Stubbornness comes easily to the pianist Matthew Shipp, who long ago established his base camp in the rough hinterland of jazz's post-1960s avant-garde. But he isn't an inflexible stylist or the sort of artist who seems insulated from collaborative influence.

Last year, to commemorate his 50th birthday, he released an archetypal double album called “The Art of the Improviser," half of which documented a performance by his working trio. (The other half was a solo recital.) He also released “Cosmic Lieder," a scintillating duo album with the saxophonist Darius Jones, and “Knives From Heaven," with the bassist William Parker and members of Antipop Consortium, the alternative hip-hop crew.

The diversity of those albums says as much about Mr. Shipp's restlessness as it does about his relationship with Thirsty Ear Recordings, which put out all three (and for which he serves as part-time curator).

“Elastic Aspects," his new release, once again features his trio with the bassist Michael Bisio and the drummer Whit Dickey. And once again it's a study in turbulent flow, with small-scale compositions that break open to enable exploration.

What sets the album apart is focus: Mr. Shipp conceived this music as a suite, and the band brings a dynamic flair to its execution. There's also the effect of a recording studio, which yields a calmer, more cloistered feeling than the trio pursues in concert. (The group plays on Tuesday and Wednesday at Jazz Standard, jazzstandard.com.)

Mr. Shipp has his jazz-piano roots, and there are moments here—like most of “Psychic Counterpart," early in the going—that suggest a prickly triangulation of Andrew Hill, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. “Explosive Aspects," an atonal exercise, suggests a more severe strain of free jazz, hammering and dense. More intriguingly, “Stage 10" finds Mr. Shipp engaging with nonstandard piano techniques, plucking and damping its strings by hand, while his rhythm section swings four to the bar, in an obliquely cheerful cadence.

Whether it's a matter of accumulated energies or merely an accident of design, the album perceptibly gathers steam. “Stage 10" kicks off its strong final stretch, which culminates in the one-two punch of “Elastic Aspects" and “Elastic Eye." Preceding that stretch, and maybe setting it on its course, is a solo interlude by Mr. Bisio, played with a bow. It's one of the album's few suggestions of imploring emotion, which lends it a ripe and exotic air.

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