Whit Dickey Morph Review
For some people, this may not be the best time for noisy, loosely structured free jazz. Or, really, anything that isn’t soothing. For the rest of us, though, there’s Whit Dickey’s Morph (CD, digital), an epic two-disc set on which the free jazz / free jazz adjacent drummer plays with pianist Matthew Shipp on the first disc, Reckoning, and with Shipp and trumpeter Nate Wooley on the second, Pacific Noir.
Whit Dickey, Matthew Shipp, Nate Wooley
Recorded March 27th (Pacific Noir)…
and June 29th (Reckoning) of 2019, Morph marks Whit Dickey’s thirteenth stint as a leader since making his recording debut on Matthew Shipp’s 1992 albums Points and Circular Temple. He has also recorded thirteen other albums under Shipp’s leadership — most notably as a member of the Matthew Shipp Trio with bassist Michael Bisio — as well as five with him and Shipp as half of the David S. Ware Quartet.
It’s also not the first time Whit Dickey has teamed with both Matthew Shipp and Nate Wooley; the two, joined by Michael Bisio, previous backed saxophonist Ivo Perelman on 2013’s The Edge, while Shipp and Wooley also backed Perelman on for 2017’s Philosopher’s Stone, and later teamed up for the duo collection What If?
Morph also isn’t the first time Whit Dickey has been one half of a duo. In 2016 he teamed with coronet player Kirk Knuffke for the album Fierce Silence.
As for the actual music on Morph, let’s start with the first disc (naturally): Reckoning. The more sparse of the two (again, naturally), this disc opens with Dickey and Shipp being melodically playful on “Blue Threads,” but then gets moody and more contemplative for this disc’s title track before going back to the playful approach on the even looser “Dice.”
The duo then strike a more dramatic tone for “Thick,” a tune on which Shipp’s piano playing sounds as much classical as it does jazz (at least to my uneducated ears). Then, on “Helix,” the two go from mellow and manic, with the loose, frantic approach continuing on the next track, “Steph.” The duo then go back to being playful, albeit it in a louder way, on the album’s title track, “Morph,” before ending this 47-minute-long collection in a similar fashion with “Firmament.”
But while the Reckoning disc of Morph may be all over the place, tonally, it’s pulled together by the distinctive piano playing of Matthew Shipp, and the always complimentary drumming of Whit Dickey.
The same can also be said for the second disc of Morph, Pacific Noir. While it adds the trumpet tones of Nate Wooley, this 53-minute-long collection also has a deceptively scattershot approach that’s tied together by Matthew Shipp’s piano playing and Whit Dickey drumming.
Like Reckoning, Pacific Noir opens with something upbeat. Though in this case, the tune, “Noir 1,” is more aggressive and cacophonous than Reckoning‘s “Blue Threads.” Things get even more interesting on the next track, “Noir 2,” which is more percussive and atmospheric in a way that actually recalls what Shipp and bass clarinetist / alto saxophonist / soprano clarinetist / flautist Mat Walerian did on their first album together, Live At Okuden.
A similarly stark mood is also struck, albeit in a less atmospheric way, on the beginning of the next two tracks, “Take The Wild Train” and “To Planet Earth,” though both ultimately veer into a noisier and more playful spaces, and the latter doesn’t get nearly as boisterous as the former. Things are then reversed for “Epiphany,” which starts out playfully triumphant but calms down considerably as it goes, as well as for “Pulse Morph,” which takes a similar approach but is ultimately much more noisy and aggro than “Epiphany.”
Pacific Noir then returns to the atmospheric approach (fittingly) for “Space Trance,” ‘Noir 3,” and the album’s closer, “Noir 4,” though only the last of those is as atmospheric as “Noir 2.”
In the end,
Morph would not be for everyone even if these were normal times. Whether going full-throttle into free jazz (“Helix,” “Noir 1”), free jazz adjacent (“Morph,” “To Planet Earth”), or relatively mellow but still loose and percussive (“Noir 2”), this is not music for people who like things easy or catchy or are stressed out, can you give me just five minutes alone, please. But for those of us who don’t need a break, or who find noisy music to be beautiful, Whit Dickey’s Morph comes at just the right time.