Matthew Shipp turns 60 in December, and albums—as a solo performer, leader, and sideman (with the late David S. Ware’s quartet, most notably)—have documented his career for more than half of his life. Nevertheless, it’s hard to think of him as an “elder statesman” because his approach to the piano shows no signs of the complacency that can come with age. If anything, Shipp has refined the energy of his earlier work and perfected one of the most distinctive voices on the piano today.
The Piano Equation is the first release on Tao Forms, an imprint founded by drummer Whit Dickey, a longstanding Shipp collaborator. These 11 solo tracks were created spontaneously and feature an incredible clarity of thought as they unfold and expand. Shipp is never at a loss for ideas, never content to take one thought and vamp on it. A dissonant spray of notes in “Void Equation” could have produced an edgy groove, but the pianist discards it as quickly as he introduces it, using the energy to propel him in another direction. Something similar happens in “Radio Signals Equation” but Shipp does return to his motifs, adding variations each time. Like “Void Equation,” “Swing Note from Deep Space” begins with an undercurrent of hard-bop piano ideas. If they’re not played in quite that form, they can be felt, just below the strata.
While Shipp is still perfectly at home hammering chords in the lower register, sensitivity also factors into this set. He uses the upper register in “Land of the Secrets” for a melody that begins in a relatively sweet style. “Piano in Hyperspace” earns its title, suggesting a thoughtful gaze into a vast expanse.
It’s good to know that Matthew Shipp exhibits no signs of mellowing.