Like his frequent collaborator Ivo Perelman, jazz pianist Matthew Shipp is almost as known for being prolific as he is for being expressive and versatile. In fact, if the website Discogs is accurate, Shipp has appeared on nearly a dozen albums since just the beginning of this decade. And yet, it’s been three long years since he took center stage with his iconic trio, a situation he’s now rectifying with their interesting and rather varied new album World Construct (CD, digital).
Recorded April 15th, 2021,
at Brooklyn’s Park West Studio, World Construct once again features the trio of Shipp, bassist Michael Bisio, and drummer Newman Taylor Baker for their fourth album after 2015’s The Conduct Of Jazz, 2017’s Piano Song, and 2019’s Signature; fifth if you count Terra Incognita, the 2019 album on which they collaborated with saxophonist Rich Halley (2018’s Sonic Fiction featured Shipp’s previous threesome of himself, Bisio, and Whit Dickey). Which isn’t to say they haven’t been in touch; Shipp and Bisio recently released the duo collection Flow Of Everything, while…okay, I don’t know if Shipp and Baker made any new music together that hasn’t come out yet, but I’m guessing they probably had dinner or something.
As for World Construct, this nearly hour long, eleven track album kicks off in fine form with “Tangible,” a short, slowly building, almost overture-like piece in which Shipp gets playful on the piano while Bisio and Baker hold down the rhythm.
World Construct then takes a downturn, mood-wise, for “Sustained Construct,” on which Shipp plays slowly and carefully, in almost a chamber music kind of way, that makes for a rather hauntingly beautiful song.
Next, Shipp and Co. get loose for the free jazz adjacent “Spine.” On it, Ship’s piano playing is playful and very loose, which Bisio matches on the bass, albeit in approach, not in a note-for-note kind of way. Anchoring it, though, is Baker, who’s rhythmic playing is steady and not nearly as scattershot.
Things on World Construct get even free-er and frantic with the fourth track, “Jazz Posture,” on which Bisio and Baker sound like they’re physically chasing each other around (a neat trick for people who play stand-up bass and drums, respectfully), only to have Shipp and his piano occasionally join in the fast and furious fun. Which works surprisingly well for a song that’s longer than all the ones that preceded it combined (it’s 8:26; the rest are 1:47, 2:42, and 4:16, respectfully). It’s clearly a highlight of this collection.
World Construct next goes back to being dark and moody for “Beyond Understanding,” though it’s not nearly as chamber-ish as “Sustained Construct.” Instead, it’s more atmospheric and textural, courtesy of all three gents playing slowly, carefully, and sporadically. It too is a highlight of this disc, despite being different from “Jazz Posture.”
Shipp, Bisio, and Baker then make another tonal change for “Talk Power,” which, much like “Spine,” is free jazz adjacent in how all three play loosely and playfully without any concern for an obvious / overt melody.
“Talk Power” is also like “Spine” in how it’s also followed on World Construct by a far more free and loosely structured piece, “Abandoned.” The most aggressive and noisy song on the album, it sounds like Bisio, Baker, and Shipp are all super pissed about something, and rather than use their words — or worse, their fists — they’re taking it out on their instruments in what I can best describe as the most punk-like jazz tune I’ve heard in a very long time.
World Construct then continues with a rather playful-sounding track called “A Mysterious State,” which has Bisio getting ever-so-slightly funky on the bass while Shipp matches his mood on the piano and Baker supports them with some brushwork that sounds almost marching band-esque, but which still manages to add to this curious tune as it builds and builds to an almost reckless conclusion.
Next, Shipp, Bisio, and Baker go back to being moody for “Stop The World,” on which they once again play slowly and carefully, albeit not as atmospherically as they did on “Beyond Understanding.”
The trio then get playful again, albeit in an even more funky way, with “Sly Glance,” which may be the grooviest tune these guys have ever recorded. It is literally the only song on the album that I can picture Shipp, Bisio, and Baker recording without putting on their serious faces; it’s just that peppy.
World Construct then comes to a satisfying conclusion…
with the sprawling title track, which, like the album, covers a lot of ground. After starting off sad sounding and moody, the tune grows progressively more upbeat (albeit not aggressive), approaching free jazz adjacent territory before it hits the mid-way point of its 10:20 length, only to slowly, uh, slow down in the back half, then get even more frantic for a bit, only to finally wind down into something slow and moody as it, and this impressive album, comes to a satisfying end.