Music Reviews

Matthew Shipp Trio’s “The Unidentifiable” Review


With a career that spans more than 30 years and nearly 70 albums as a leader (and about as a many as a sideman), jazz pianist Matthew Shipp has more than established himself as a singular talent.

So it’s interesting how The Unidentifiable (CD, mp3, wav), his fourth album with his current trio, has moments that recall a certain other prolific piano player’s iconic threesome, albeit while still being very Shipp.

Matthew Shipp Trio The Unidentifiable

Photo Credit: Anna Yatskevich


Recorded October 10, 2019,

The Unidentifiable once again has pianist Matthew Shipp teaming with bassist Michael Bisio, and drummer Newman Taylor Baker, just as he did on 2015’s The Conduct Of Jazz, 2017’s Piano Song, and 2019′ Signature (Bisio was also part of Shipp’s previous trio; Baker was not).

For the opening tune of this eleven track, nearly hour-long album, “Blue Transport System,” Matthew Shipp, Michael Bisio, and Newman Taylor Baker present one of the more conventional tracks that they’ve recorded together. Which is not to say this sounds like it was recorded in a piano bar, just that the three play the kind of hauntingly beautiful jazz that the trio of Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, and Jack DeJohnette used to do when they recorded such studio albums as 1983’s Standards Vol. 1 and 1985’s Standards Vol. 2.

The Unidentifiable then gives Newman Taylor Baker a muted and moody moment of excursion with “Trance Frame,” which is not only interesting on its own, but also serves as an interesting coda to “Blue Transport System.” So much so that, if you’re not paying attention to your CD player’s display, you might think the two are actually one long song.

Things on The Unidentifiable then take a bit of a left turn, though not a sharp one, for the album’s third track, “Phantom Journey,” which is decidedly more playful and aggressive. On it, Matthew Shipp bangs away on his piano, while Newman Taylor Baker sounds like he’s smacking the rims of his drums (not to be confused with a rim shot), and Michael Bisio plays in an equally quick but lean way. And while it’s by no means a full-on free jazz kind of moment, it certain does flirt with the idea of being free jazz adjacent.

The Unidentifiable next goes back to the beautiful place for the ironically-titled “Dark Sea Negative Charge,” which is anything but. While Matthew Shipp, Michael Bisio, and Newman Taylor Baker do play it slowly and carefully, it doesn’t really have a dark or moody vibe so much as it does an austere and picturesque one. Though things do get a little ominous towards the end when Bisio plays a brief solo.

Interestingly, Bisio’s unaccompanied coda to “Dark Sea Negative Charge” has the same effect as “Trance Frame,” as it serves to effectively connects that track to the next one on The Unidentifiable, “The Dimension.” That song is also like the one after “Trance Frame,” “Phantom Journey,” in how it is also more playful than the one that preceded it. Though not to the same extent. While it does momentarily find Shipp being aggressive with his piano playing, and the song has a relatively loose structure, it’s decidedly not as free form — or, rather, free form adjacent — as the track before it.

No, for that you need the next tune on The Unidentifiable, “Loop,” a scattershot mix of Matthew Shipp, Michael Bisio, and Newman Taylor Baker seeming to randomly hit their respective instruments. While the three do follow each other around the room, it’s kind of like a cat following a mouse if the mouse is cocky and fucking with the cat.

The Unidentifiable then takes another interesting left turn with the title track, a loose, playful, and kind of funky track that — like the album’s opener, “Blue Transport System” — also recalls the similarly configured Jarrett, Peacock, and DeJohnette, albeit more like what they did on such later albums as 1998’s Tokyo ’96 and 2000’s Whisper Not.

Next, Matthew Shipp, Michael Bisio, and Newman Taylor Baker present another pair of tunes, “Virgin Psych Space 1” and “Virgin Psych Space 2,” that might as well have been one. In the former, Baker takes a quick moment to do a solo before continuing in the same vein for the latter, during which Shipp and Bisio take a careful, measured approach that gives this tunes an atmospheric vibe, even when Shipp plays some rather ominous, cacophonous notes.

This is followed on The Unidentifiable by “Regeneration,” another upbeat and peppy track, though one that has a much looser, less direct approach than the title track, which puts in the vicinity (though not the neighborhood) of free jazz.

The Unidentifiable then ends, and in epic fashion, with “New Heaven And New Earth,” a lengthy and sprawling track that opens with a short but noisy rubbing bass solo by Michael Bisio, but then eases into another playful, but also somewhat dramatic piece that later shifts into both moments of atmosphere and free jazz squanching. In other words, it’s the totality of the album in a single ten-and-a-half-minute tune.

Matthew Shipp Trio The Unidentifiable

In the end, though,

The Unidentifiable is anything but. While it does, at times, recall the work of Keith Jarrett’s trio — and far more than anything else Matthew Shipp has done with this group, or any other — this is still more Shipp-like than anything else.

SCORE: 8.0/10



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