Jungle | Mat Walerian, Matthew Shipp, Hamid Drake: Live At Okuden Review
Though it shares the same name, was recorded a few months later during the same concert series, and is a collection jazz that runs from the atmospheric to the noisy, the second Live At Okuden album (CD, digital) by jazz maestros Mat Walerian and Matthew Shipp — on which they’re joined, this time around, by Hamid Drake under the name Jungle — is anything but a rerun. Well, except in how good it is.
Recorded November 19, 2012 at Walerian’s Okuden Music Concert Series in Torun, Poland — six months after the previous one — Live At Okuden has pianist Matthew Shipp and bass clarinetist, alto saxophonist, soprano clarinetist, and flautist Mat Walerian joined by drummer Hamid Drake for a thirteen tune, hundred minute show.
In many ways, this Live At Okuden mirrors the previous one. On such songs as “Tiger,” “Good Trip Is A Safe Trip,” and “Perfect Joint,” Mat Walerian plays a similarly mournful clarinet while Shipp matches his mood on the piano, with Hamid Drake adding some occasional or subtle hints of percussion or rhythmic texture. Meanwhile, both “Shrine” and “Gate” kick off their respective discs with Walerian and Shipp thinking long and hard before hitting those sad notes.
But for every instance where this Live At Okuden sounds like the first one, there’s just as many where it doesn’t. Part of the reason for this is its instrumentation; and no, not just because Hamid Drake’s drumming and percussion adds a third layer to the proceedings. Mat Walerian also displays a bit more diversity in his choice of instruments, as he uses both his sax and his flute more here than he did on the first album.
This more varied climate on Live At Okuden is best typified by the first four tracks on the first disc, which flow into each other like a single piece. After slowly and quietly easing in with some flute and a smattering of piano notes and drum beats on “Shine,” “Teleports” then builds ever so slightly for a quiet lamentation, with Hamid Drake adding bits of percussion that match Matthew Shipp’s sparse piano playing. Things then build, getting more aggressive in “Gentle Giants,” with Shipp banging on the piano, Drake doing rolls on the drums, and Walerian veering into free jazz territory, which propels them through that song and onto the next, “123 Sylvester 230CE,” until the last minutes, at which point things slowly calm and return to the dark and moody.
Where Live At Okuden differentiates itself from the previous one it sounds more like a collection of songs than a lengthy suite. On the first album, Mat Walerian and Matthew Shipp played the first nine tracks straight through, like Miles Davis did during such electric shows as the ones on the live boxed set Miles At The Fillmore: Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3. But while they do this here on the opening four tracks — the aforementioned “Shine,” “Teleports, “Gentle Giants,” and “123 Sylvester 230CE” — on the rest of this album, the trio take a break after almost every song, during which you hear the audience voicing their appreciation. As a result, this second Live At Okuden sounds more like a live album than one long piece. Or, as the case was with the first one, one long piece and an encore. Which isn’t a bad thing. Or a good thing. But it is worth noting.
What makes everything on Live At Okuden work, and well, is not just the interplay between Walerian, Shipp, and Drake — who lock together like they’ve been together for years — but also their strengths as individuals. Shipp’s prowess is well documented (click here to read my review of his recent album The Conduct Of Jazz), as is Drake’s on such albums as his 2000 duet set Emancipation Proclamation: A Real Statement Of Freedom with saxophonist and pocket trumpeter Joe McPhee, and William Parker’s 2013 box set Wood Flute Songs. But on both this and the previous Live On Okuden album, it’s Walerian who seems to brings out the best in his coworkers by playing with the kind of skill, care, and style that Jimmy Giuffre had when he, pianist Paul Bley, and bassist Steve Swallow recorded Fusion and Thesis as the Jimmy Giuffre 3.
As beautiful as Live At Okuden may be, there are some moments that are stronger than others. Well, sort of. As a fan of jazz that’s stark, dark and atmospheric, I decidedly prefer this album’s moodier moments (“Shine,” “Gate,” and “Tiger”). But not by much. It’s kind of like how I prefer my ice coffee with milk instead of cream and chocolate chip cookies with nuts more than plain; ultimately, it’s all good, and certainly nothing I’d complain about. But given a choice….
Also, as long as I’m waxing philosophic, I wish this new Live At Okuden included a song or two from the older one. Not the same track, mind you, but rather a version of a song from that first album that’s played by Walerian, Shipp, and Drake. While I appreciate that this new disc has thirteen new tracks, it would’ve been interesting to hear some of the previous album’s songs reconfigured for the addition of percussion. Especially since “Good Trip Safe Trip” shares the same opening as the previous album’s “Introduction.”
Still, this second album called Live At Okuden is ultimately just as strong as the first, which is saying a lot given how the the first has become one of my favorite jazz albums, and is the most unique jazz album I’d heard since 1998’s Thimar by Anouar Brahem, John Surman, and Dave Holland. And, thankfully, it’s not the last we’ll be hearing from them, at least not from Shipp and Walerian, who have a trio album with bassist William Parker due out this fall called This Is Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People under the name Toxic, while Walerian will join bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey in the Matthew Shipp Quartet for 2017’s Sonic Fiction. My only hope is that if they release any of the other shows they did during Walerian’s Okuden Music Concert Series, they come up with another name.
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