One of the reasons pianist Matthew Shipp moved to New York’s East Village in 1983 was to play with bassist William Parker, then best known for his work with Cecil Taylor. Nine years later, Shipp’s first trio album, Circular Temple, featured Parker and drummer Whit Dickey. The three played together on many dates and discs, most notably over three years and five albums in the David S. Ware Quartet. But Village Mothership is their first trio studio recording in nearly 30 years. Erstwhile young lions have now been shaped by experience into sages.
Shipp remains a force of nature; individually, his terse repetitions, hammered chords, plangent edicts, and ultimately ersatz whimsy provide more creative surprises and emotional content than the sum of their parts. He probably gravitated to Parker because working with Cecil Taylor required enormous power, patience, and concentration by the bassist. Because Shipp is a hot spring to Taylor’s volcano, Parker has more discretion, yet he still seems to maximize the impact of his exquisite timing when a throbbing pizzicato or bowed howl-and-squeak fits into the proceedings. Ironically, Dickey is the least overtly rhythmic member of the trio, using his entire kit to spot and shape the abiding melodic contours of the music.
For all its glorious, ever-changing ruckus, the trio retains that temperamental quietude that matches the Taoist connotations of the album’s six song titles (and the name of Dickey’s label). For what it’s worth, “Whirling in the Void” and “Down Void Way” lean more toward the kinetic combustion of rock or fusion, while “A Thing & Nothing” and “Nothing & A Thing” roam with more circumspection; Shipp even showcases his dream-state Monk persona a bit on the latter, closing song.
Music Frees Our Souls Vol. 1 brings two new variables into the Shipp/Parker dynamic: drummer Francisco Mela and the memory of Mela’s beloved mentor, pianist McCoy Tyner. The title comes from Tyner telling Mela he envied Cecil Taylor’s freer style after Taylor came to watch Tyner perform one night. Vol. 1 is the first of three trio recordings Mela is making with Parker and three different pianists in honor of both Tyner and experimental jazz.
Fans of Shipp should note that he dominates the first dozen minutes of the 20-minute opener “Light of Mind,” with a greater emphasis than usual on such Tyner staples as cavernous, left-handed rumbling and spiky, cantering phrases. Mela is more intrusive than Dickey, and Parker is content to bide (and keep) his time until unsheathing his bow near the end of the song.
After a four-minute “Dark Light,” the recording concludes with another extended collective improvisation, “Infinite Consciousness,” the clear highlight of the session. Mela’s opening solo is both incisive and incendiary until he slides into metallic percussion and then agile hopscotching in sync with Shipp as the pianist launches one of his classic, unpredictably fragmented ruminations and Parker plucks out a homing signal. For the remainder of the piece, enhanced by instinct born of growing familiarity, the trio achieves the right balance of space and density to play “free” as a collective community.
Learn more about Music Frees Our Souls Vol. 1 on Bandcamp!