On 2015’s The Conduct Of Jazz, jazz pianist Matthew Shipp inaugurated his new trio — of himself, bassist Michael Bisio, and drummer Newman Taylor Baker — with a collection that seamlessly mixed the frantic energy of free jazz piano with more traditional and steadier jazz rhythms. But while they’re mining similar territory on their second collection, Piano Song (CD), the threesome are also veering into some different sonic realms as well.
Recorded April 5, 2016, Piano Song features a dozen original songs written by Matthew Shipp, most of which have him playing with jazz conventions while bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker stick to them. On the aggressive “Flying Carpet,” for example, Shipp bangs the keys like he’s pissed off about something, while the back-to-back tracks “Micro Wave” and “Mind Space” have him playfully attacking the keys like he’s trying to kill a skittish spider that’s running across them. Meanwhile, all three tunes find Baker and Bisio locking together in a way that’s upbeat and straight-forward, as if they’re neither annoyed nor being attacked by a bug.
This approach repeats later on Piano Song with the tunes “Silence Of” and “The Nature Of,” both of which have Matthew Shipp again being rather playful and loose with his piano playing, while Bisio and Baker maintain a steady rhythm.
Not everything on Piano Song follows this pattern, though. On such tracks as “Blue Desert,” Matthew Shipp, Michael Bisio, and Newman Taylor Baker all take a looser, free jazz approach for a tune that’s moody and somewhat a-melodic. Meanwhile, “Scrambled Brain” takes the same approach, but more aggressively, for a tune that, well, fits its name. The threesome even get a bit atmospheric for the appropriately-titled “Void Of,” on which their stark approach makes for something more textural than tuneful.
Just don’t let the “free jazz” talk scare you. While Matthew Shipp’s playing can be playful and frantic, sometimes within the same tune, the tracks on Piano Song never sound like a cat and a squirrel having a fist fight on a piano while a bass player and a drummer practice bebop in the background. Nothing here ever gets as wild as anything John Coltrane did after A Love Supreme, or as loose as anything Shipp has done with saxophonist and clarinet player Mat Walerian on either the Live At Okuden they recorded as a duo, or the Live At Okuden recorded as a trio with drummer Hamid Drake.
In fact, there are moments on Piano Song where Matthew Shipp, Michael Bisio, and Newman Taylor Baker all take a more traditional or sedate approach. “Links,” which opens the album, has Matthew Shipp going it alone, and in a more straightforward direction. This is followed by “Cosmopolitan,” on which Shipp’s piano playing is scattered and frantic, but by coupling it with the calm, cool, and collected rhythms of Michael Bisio and Newman Taylor Baker, the song is more like something Thelonious Monk would do in one of his playful moods than anything that could be deemed free-form.
Ultimately, though, while Piano Song is more varied than The Conduct Of Jazz, it’s just as solid and listenable. Matthew Shipp remains one of the most interesting jazz piano players working today, and the dynamic duo of Michael Bisio and Newman Taylor Baker work perfectly together to both compliment and support Shipp’s playing and to add their own unique elements to the mix. Which has me excited to hear what this trio will do for round three.