While he’s considered one of the better jazz piano players around these days, Matthew Shipp is mostly thought of as being one of the best free jazz musicians in New York City’s avant-garde scene. But on The Conduct Of Jazz (CD, digital), he pulls back a bit for a more conventional but still edgy-adjacent collection.
For The Conduct Of Jazz, Shipp once again teams with bassist Michael Bisio, a frequent collaborator. But while Shipp’s trio previously featured drummer Whit Dickey, here he instead pairs with Newman Taylor Baker, best known for his work with Henry Threadgill, Billy Bang, and Leroy Jenkins (no, not this one).
The result — though it’s probably less to do with the swapping of drummers than just Shipp’s head space — is that The Conduct Of Jazz is, relatively speaking, one of the pianist’s more straight-forward collections. Unlike his more radical works, which showcased Shipp’s rhythm section playing free jazz, this album finds Bisio and Baker laying down a solid, unflourished rhythm, over which Shipp can lay down some wild piano playing.
And, in some cases, not so wild. On the songs “Instinctive Touch” and “The Conduct Of Jazz,” which open this album with a one/two punch, Shipp’s playing isn’t so much free form as it is playful, bouncing around like a hyperactive kid who got a free grande espresso from Starbucks.
It’s during tracks like those that The Conduct Of Jazz recalls such post-A Love Supreme, pre-Live In Japan John Coltrane albums as Living Space and Transition, when the sax master was more fluid than he had been previously, but wasn’t as noisy and abrasive as he would become at the end of his career.
Things do get decidedly less structured when The Conduct Of Jazz gets to “Ball In Space,” a loose percussive jam, “Primary Form,” a somewhat march-like piece that’s the album’s most aggressive track, and the moody “Blue Abyss.” But none ever full veer into free jazz territory, and the trio eventually go back to the more even keeled approach with the playful piano pieces “Stream Of Light” and “The Bridge Across.”
As a result of this stylistic weaving, The Conduct Of Jazz often reminds me of the albums bassist (and frequent Shipp collaborator) William Parker made with his group In Order To Survive (Compassion Seizes Bed-Stuy, The Peach Orchard, and Posium Pendasem), as well as the work of The Thomas Chapin Trio on such albums as Ride, Night Bird Song, and Sky Piece. All of which, I’d like to note, rank among my favorite jazz albums.
Ultimately, The Conduct Of Jazz isn’t the departure for Matthew Shipp some might consider it to be, even if it is different from what we usually hear from him. Instead, it’s a solid collection of sometimes beautiful, sometimes playful, and always invigorating music that continues to show why he’s one of the better jazz piano players around, free style or otherwise.