Pianist Matthew Shipp’s ever-expanding discography as leader, soloist, and collaborator can be a challenge to anyone hoping to keep up. In some ways it’s better to approach each release like a chapter from a larger volume that captures him at a particular moment in time. 2021’s Codebreaker was a solo piano session that revealed a more pensive, lyrical side. He didn’t go full Bill Evans, but he tempered his stormy attack with moments that revealed his admiration for that legend’s work. It was another advance in a style that becomes distinctly more individual with each new release.
Bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker respond well to Shipp’s varied performances here. “Tangible” begins the album with a bit of a surprise, as Bisio slowly thumps out a two-note vamp that almost sounds like a slowed-down bit of hard bop. More of a warm-up, it lasts less than two minutes. But the trio revisits the mood later in “Sly Glance.” Things stay loose, as if they were ensuring the music would never come off like a trite vamp.
Elsewhere, Shipp is content to feed sustained chords to Bisio, whose emotional playing almost feels vocal (“Stop the World”). Baker plays freely but never resorts to excessive bashing, preferring to move across his whole set or create dynamics with sustained cymbal rolls. This approach centers “Beyond Understanding,” a low-volume meditation with bowed bass and subdued piano. Along with the more nuanced moments, “Abandoned” gives the trio a chance to cut loose, with pure freedom eventually leading back to a piano riff by the end. As prolific as he may be, Matthew Shipp isn’t repeating himself or lapsing into a formula.
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