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Matthew Shipp: The Conduct of Jazz

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As Matthew Shipp albums go, this is almost mainstream jazz. The forcefully individualistic pianist’s new disc, The Conduct of Jazz, is the first by his new trio with bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker. It’s a reset for Shipp, who has always operated with disregard for popular acceptance. Yet, while this record is as close to radio-playable as any Shipp has previously produced, it is also indelibly his. Shipp’s aesthetic-challenging compositions, powerful delivery-could never be mistaken for anyone else’s.

Bisio, with whom Shipp has collaborated before, is an understated presence-walking, swinging and providing unexpected counterpoint but never vying for attention, even in a solo. On drums, Baker has a lighter touch than some of Shipp’s prior cohorts, with perhaps more swing, and he’s often content to suggest a rhythm rather than play one outright. As for Shipp, he is at this point a fully developed artist, both drawing on his own influences and providing influence for others.

It is tempting to describe the title tune-with its jagged edges and minor-key awkwardness-as Monkish, but Shipp’s oeuvre is complete enough to call it Shipp-ian. On this song and others, phrases are repeated, drilled into grooves, a hallmark of his style. “Ball in Space” contains a passage in which one lowest-octave chord is repeated 17 times (15 times with force, twice lightly). “Stream of Light,” on the other hand, is a 5 1/2-minute piano solo of notes that shouldn’t go together but somehow do. “Primary Form,” conversely, is all about Baker; his drumming grows increasingly energetic as Shipp repeats a four-bar phrase. “The Bridge Across” demonstrates the full power of Shipp-Bisio-Baker, showcasing musical cohesion in the absence of obvious structure, chords or melody. Still, one could almost imagine some of this on FM radio. The cover art, in fact, looks like one of Blue Note’s more recent jackets, and the title brings to mind Branford Marsalis’ defiant Contemporary Art album. Well played.

Originally Published