After briefly reuniting with his previous threesome for the album Sonic Fiction — on which they were joined by sax and clarinet player Mat Walerian — jazz pianist Matthew Shipp has once again assembled his current trio for their third album, Signature (CD, digital). But it seems the time apart may have done them some good. For while Signature is as solid as the trio’s previous albums, The Conduct Of Jazz and Piano Song, it is a much more varied, and thus more interesting, collection.
Like The Conduct Of Jazz and Piano Song,
Signature finds Shipp again teaming up with longtime bassist Michael Bisio and relative new drummer Newman Taylor Baker for an hour-long collection of ten Shipp originals they recorded July 9, 2018 at Park West Studio. (Sonic Fiction, for those keeping score at home, featured Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey.)
But Signature doesn’t sound like it was recorded on the same day, or even by the same people. Or rather, it wouldn’t if those people weren’t being led by the varied and versatile Matthew Shipp. “The Way,” for instance, is classic Shipp, as it flirts with free form structure, but never totally gives into it, thus approaching what, for instance, John Coltrane did on Sun Ship as opposed to Live In Japan.
Things on Signatureget even looser on the track “Flying Saucer,” which starts with the kind of frantic and percussive piano playing that always reminds me of the music from Planet Of The Apes, and continues onward in a similarly free form manner when Matthew Shipp is joined by Michael Bisio and Newman Taylor Baker. The same can also be said for the track “Zo #2,” on which the band occasionally veer into full free jazz terrain.
The trio also get playful on the both the titular opening title track of Signature and the song “Speech Of Form,” on which Matthew Shipp’s fingers dance around the piano while Michael Bisio and Newman Taylor Baker show they can be equally nimble on their respective instruments.
And then there’s “Deep To Deep,” in which bassist Michael Bisio spends under a minute trying to recreate the brown noise from the “World Wide Recorder Concert” episode of South Park. Or he’s just just trying to make the kind of drone-y, noise-y music Trent Reznor would employ on one of his movie soundtracks. It’s quite different from Newman Taylor Baker’s solo track, “Snap,” which is so peppy and hard hitting that it oddly sounds more like the drum solo of a rock god than a jazz man.
It’s a vibe the threesome continue with “Stage Ten,” which is by far the most conventional track on Signature, and possibly the most straight-ahead jazz tune Matthew Shipp has recorded with Michael Bisio and Newman Taylor Baker. It’s such a classic-sounding jazz song that if I didn’t know better, I’d think it was their faithful version of a something Red Garland covered with his own trio on on such classic albums as 1957’s A Garland Of Red or 1958’s All Kinds Of Weather.
But no track on Signature represents the trio of Matthew Shipp, Michael Bisio, and Newman Taylor Baker better than the epic, sixteen-minute-long closer “This Matrix.” At times, it is as free as anything else on the album. But at other times, it sounds like a classic ’50s jazz song (albeit mostly during Michael Bisio’s bass solo, which sounds like something Paul Chamber would’ve done under the watchful eye of Miles Davis on Cookin’ or Relaxin’), while it ends off sounding like something the careful trio of Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, and Jack DeJohnette would’ve done on such albums as Yesterdays, Always Let Me Go, or Up For It.
this variety makes Signature sound like the most dynamic album Matthew Shipp has made yet with Michael Bisio and Newman Taylor Baker. (That the production makes it sound like they’re recording it live, in your living room, also helps…assuming, of course, you listen to this on a good stereo). Maybe they should take another break before recording album number four.