Sounds, Fragmented and Whole: Elastic Aspects by the Matthew Shipp Trio

By Daniel Garrett

Matthew Shipp Trio, Elastic Aspects
Thirsty Ear, 2012

Matthew Shipp began playing piano when he was five, and since then he has become one of those brilliant, creative, difficult, eccentric personalities whose work is anticipated, discussed, and revered; and he marked his fiftieth birthday with the double album, Art of the Improviser, containing both solo and trio performances. Shipp is a jazz musician with a knowledge of and relation to classical and experimental music. That fact is perceptible in his album Elastic Aspects, his album with bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey. An otherworldly soundscape, with throbbing chords, and pings that sound like that emanating from a submarine, and also a gong, are heard in “Alternative Aspects,” followed by the brief, firm pianism of “Aspects.” Bass, drums, and piano interact in the jazz of “Psychic Counterpart,” which has drama as well as swing; and its rhythms become convulsive (from a little run to something nearly still, except thickened and throbbing). The piano playing is very strong in “Frame Focus,” a strength that reaches the listener. “Flow Chart” has a violent intensity—sawing, streaking, stretching; what goes by the name free jazz, though it sounds less free than traumatized, the reaction to pain. Its drumming is unpredictable, and that is interesting.

For much of human history, music has been organized sound, but for the last century or so there has been revolution: attempts to make music into disorganized sounds—and in both art music and popular music, one hears traces of that struggle. Sound is fragmented, shattered. Is that a fundamentally creative or destructive act, or strangely, and likely, both? Matthew Shipp has been there and back, having performed traditional and experimental forms with a wide range of collaborators: including bassist William Parker; clarinetist Evan Ziporyn; saxophonists David Ware, Rob Brown, Roscoe Mitchell, Ivo Perelman, Daniel Carter, Darius Jones; trumpeters Roy Campbell and Leo Smith; violinists Mat Maneri and Daniel Bernard Roumain; and drummers Susie Ibarra, Randy Peterson, Gerald Cleaver, Andrew Barker, and Guillermo Brown. On Elastic Aspects by the Matthew Shipp Trio, featuring bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey, the composition “Mute Voice” is a pretty piece, although its notes seem half-articulated, clipped before they are allowed to achieve fullness or resonance. Banging, rumbling, sounding more like experimental music than traditional jazz is “Explosive Aspects.” Much of “Raw Materials” resembles classical music, until the bass arrives, then an exploratory jazz is created with the piano. There is a sense of space and isolation created in “Rainforest,” with a hornlike sound, and deep bass notes (the speed of the bass rhythm a trait of modern jazz). “Stage 10” could be going in three different directions, at least: with solitary ringing piano notes and heavy chords, fast and strong percussion, and sonorous bass. The music of “Dimension” is angular, quick, shifty—it can be difficult to find its depth or joy, as it is like something sliding away. “Elastic Aspects” follows, and precedes the last piece “Elastic Eye,” in which droning becomes intense, with an uptempo rhythm—serious, rather than entertaining; interesting for being like a maze.

Daniel Garrett, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, and the principal organizer of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at Poets House, is a writer whose work has appeared in The African, All About Jazz, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Black Film Review, Changing Men, Cinetext, Contact II, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, Illuminations, Muse Apprentice Guild, Option, Pop Matters, Quarterly Black Review of Books, Rain Taxi, Red River Review, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Wax Poetics, and World Literature Today. Daniel Garrett has written extensively about international film for Offscreen, and comprehensive commentary on music for The Compulsive Reader. He has an internet log, “The Art Notes of a Solitary Walker,” focused on visual art. He has written a novel, A Stranger on Earth.