Matthew Shipp cranks albums out with such regularity that to call him prolific would be something of an understatement. Yet the more recent batch of releases attributed to the pianist (in addition to extracurricular sessions) chronicles a progression in his playing rather than merely presenting variations on what has come before. Bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey appeared with him on half of last year’s Art of the Improviser, and they return here. Like a handful of modern visionaries, Shipp goes for a sense of economy (13 tracks in 48 minutes), keeping things to album length rather than overstuffing the CD, and that mindset plays up his sense of precision and the element of surprise in the music.
The whole trio appears on less than half of the disc. Shipp lets his cohorts open the album with two minutes of low bowed bass and echo-heavy drums before he briefly taps out chords that lead into a dancing melody line. His playing here, and especially on the solo tracks, has a lyrical, delicate quality that should surprise anyone expecting more familiar avant-garde moves, like heavy thunder from the bottom of the keyboard. That comes with the final track, but by then Shipp has worked through several strategies, including playing over 4/4 swing on his instrument’s strings with Monk-like accents (“Stage 10”), and several duets with Bisio. On the latter, the bassist doesn’t always connect with Shipp emotionally, although he keeps up with his ideas. By the closing statement, however, Shipp and Dickey (occasionally pushed back in the mix) lock in with intensity.
What makes Elastic Aspects exciting is the fact that it doesn’t sound like most Matthew Shipp albums. His is a creativity that keeps on giving.