Matthew Shipp kicked up an Internet fuss recently with a dismissive Talkhouse review of Keith Jarrett’s trio album Somewhere. Reflecting on Jarrett’s solo piano recordings of the 1970s, Shipp wrote, “He never seemed to me to have sculpted a specific language system, but instead seemed like someone who had a lot of piano chops and knew a lot of devices from classical music and had some jazz chops and could get a line going when needed.”
Nobody judging Shipp by Piano Sutras could accuse him of lacking a language of his own. Shipp himself admits no influences. To the extent others might recognize them here, they seem drawn from artists similarly removed from conventional jazz piano. The percussive flurry opening “Angelic Brain Cell,” for instance, calls to mind Cecil Taylor before softening its way in and out of lyrical passages that are entirely Shipp’s. His cinematic use of space and lush, lingering chords on tracks like “Surface to Curve” and “Space Bubble,” on the other hand, sound something like Ran Blake. The album’s two covers, meanwhile, are nothing like the famous originals. Shipp turns “Giant Steps” into a slow, pretty interlude lasting just over a minute; his take on “Nefertiti” is both adventurous and approachable, and not the least bit intimidated by Wayne Shorter or Herbie Hancock, icons Shipp has taken previous jabs at. Piano Sutras isn’t likely to dislodge The Köln Concert from most jazz fans’ playlists. But it’s surprisingly embraceable for music so uncompromisingly ambitious and original.