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Chad Fowler & Matthew Shipp: Old Stories (Mahakala)

A review of the two-disc, 90-minute set that captures these sound painters at the pinnacle of their powers

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Chad Fowler & Matthew Shipp: Old Stories (Mahakala)
The cover of Old Stories by Chad Fowler & Matthew Shipp

Although avant-garde jazz titans Chad Fowler and Matthew Shipp come from different generations, they share a common bond: the superhuman ability to speak the language of free improvisation. While saxophonist Fowler and pianist Shipp have mastered just about any format, it’s in duos that these two have taken their explorative magic to cosmic levels: Fowler in tandem with Christopher Parker, Joel Futterman, WC Anderson, and Steve Hirsh; Shipp with Ivo Perelman, William Parker, and Bobby Kapp—and that’s just a small sampling. The list of their duo records is ample and all essential.

Considering their mutual peers, it was only a matter of time before this prolific pair joined forces for their own duo recording. Old Stories is the thrilling result of the Fowler/Shipp alliance: a two-disc, nearly 90-minute set that provides a clinic on the improvised music template and captures these sound painters at the pinnacle of their powers.

Fully improvised on the spot, Old Stories’ 14 pieces sublimely fuse the Arkansas-based Fowler’s rustic language with Shipp’s downtown New York grit and Ellington-esque grandeur. Fowler, on stritch and saxello, puts forth a Herculean performance from the outset. His bluesy and R&B-flavored vocabulary covers all the bases: from gut-wrenching subtlety to hurricane-force sonics that melt hearts and ears. Shipp is just as towering; his bionic finger work on the keys—deeply expressionistic, playfully eccentric, relentless and endlessly original—is purely “Shippian.” The intuitive chemistry that these two share is a thing of beauty, and Old Stories shows that they were meant to collaborate.

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