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Matthew Shipp: Zero (ESP-Disk’)/Matthew Shipp Quartet: Sonic Fiction (ESP-Disk’)

Review of two albums by the pianist recorded for the ESP-Disk' label

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Cover of Matthew Shipp Quartet album Sonic Fiction
Cover of Matthew Shipp Quartet album Sonic Fiction

ESP-Disk’ epitomized the underground culture of the 1960s by introducing the world to the free jazz of Albert Ayler and Sonny Simmons, to name only two, and by providing a platform for experimental rockers the Fugs and a plethora of other artists who may or may not have been ready for primetime. The imprint continues to thrive more than half a century later, even after the passing of founder Bernard Stollman. And it appears to be the new home of the prolific pianist Matthew Shipp, who recently released a quartet date and an introspective solo recital through the label.

On Sonic Fiction, Shipp guides the session and receives all the songwriting credits but still gives the musicians a great deal of creative space. Polish native Mat Walerian, who has collaborated with Shipp on three previous albums, uses a reed arsenal similar to Eric Dolphy’s: alto saxophone, bass clarinet and soprano clarinet. After a piano introduction on “Blues Addition,” Shipp leaves bassist Michael Bisio and Walerian (on clarinet) alone. They begin with a raunchy double-stop slide and the excitement snowballs from there. On “The Station,” Walerian, solo on bass clarinet, squeezes low-register melodies until they pop or, in this case, squeak. During “3 by 4,” his wails on alto motivate Shipp, who responds with some heavy-handed crashes, while the title track finds the pianist comping with Monk-like restraint. With drummer Whit Dickey completing the group, it’s a strong batch of work.

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Originally Published