Pianists: Matthew Shipp and Greg Reitan


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Why consider in the same piece albums by pianists as unalike as Matthew Shipp and Greg Reitan? Because in different ways the ghost of Bud Powell informs their music; because pairing them may lead partisans of one to listen to the other and find unexpected rewards; because the profound dissimilarity between the iconoclast Shipp and the modern traditionalist Reitan typifies the wide variety of satisfactions to be found in jazz; and because they are more or less simultaneously releasing new CDs.

Shipp 4D.jpg Matthew Shipp, 4D (Thirsty Ear).

Shipp's initial inspiration was Bud Powell, who to a great extent is the underpinning of his music. The unfettered approach of the formidable technician and free adventurer Cecil Taylor is a potent strain in Shipp's work, but no matter how far out he goes, Shipp's sense of chord and line movement puts him closer to Powell than Taylor ever was. That is evident throughout the solo album 4D, nowhere more emphatically than in the roiling forward movement and occasional bebop phraseology of “Equilibrium," which also has hints of Thelonious Monk and Earl Hines. In its opening bars, “Teleportation" bows even lower in Powell's direction.

Throughout the album, Shipp glimpses other presences; John Coltrane in “Dark Matter" and “Stairs," Taylor in “Jazz Paradox," Ellington in “Prelude to a Kiss." But to dwell on evidence of his influences is to ignore Shipp's originality, which is bolstered by redoubtable technique. He sometimes holds his keyboard prowess in reserve, but when he unleashes it, as he does in a joyful “What is This Thing Called Love," it can be dazzling. In addition to the two standards named above and his compositions (or spontaneous creations; it's difficult to be certain), Shipp applies his daring, ferocity and wit to “Autumn Leaves," “Greensleeves," “What a Friend We Have in Jesus" and “Frere Jacques." “Frere Jacques?" Yes. Shipp proves that it is possible to operate out there on the edge without losing sight of the fundamentals.

Reitan Antibes.jpg Greg Reitan, Antibes (Sunnyside).

Reitan's inner Bud Powell filters through Bill Evans and Denny Zeitlin. If there is direct Powell influence, it is more in his adaptation of harmonic concepts than in a reflection of Powell's manic energy. His keyboard touch and chord voicings are firmly in the Evans school. He shares with Evans, Zeitlin and--consciously or unconsciously--with Keith Jarrett, the floating time feeling that comes from rhythmic placement relating chords to individual notes. His interpretations of Evans's “Re: Person I Knew" and Zeitlin's “Time Remembers One Time Once" are notable in that regard. The trait also manifests itself in “For Heaven's Sake," the exquisitely understated “In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning" and pieces by Jarrett and Wayne Shorter. Bassist Jack Daro and drummer Dean Koba are effective in support.

The tracks with Reitan's own writing are the ones I keep going back to in Antibes. He told Orrin Keepnews, who wrote the admiring liner notes, that when he was preparing the album he had been listening to Glenn Gould play J.S. Bach. The title tune, the unaccompanied “September" and “Salinas" are direct reflections of that experience. Reitan so skillfully conceived them with Bachian rhythmic and harmonic principles and plays them with such precision and dynamic touch that one might almost be willing accept that Gould had come back as a jazz artist. Reitan's Some Other Time was an impressive debut album last year. Antibes shows impressive growth and even greater potential.

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This story appears courtesy of Rifftides by Doug Ramsey.
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