Matthew Shipp

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4D Review

by Thom Jurek

Jazz pianist, composer, and producer Matthew Shipp has been through many phases in his long career. Since he began his association with Thirsty Ear, he has curated its Blue Series. Through this endeavor, Shipp has not only stretched the definitions of jazz, but also exponentially advanced his own ideas about it conceptually and technically. 4D is divided roughly into halves: one is a series of original compositions; the other interpretations of standards and folk songs. It sums up his musical history, but more importantly, points to new horizons. The strident physicality of his early recordings has given way to a (somewhat more) nuanced touch and fluidity that relies heavily on counterpoint, expansive harmonics, and spaciousness. Dissonance still plays a necessary role in this work as it is heard in both aspects of the album, but it is heightened by a wonderfully complex lyricism that is now predominant. The Monk-ish intro in “The Crack in the Piano’s Egg” offers a starting point for both harmonic investigation of theme, and a tonal pronouncement of rhythm and its relationship to his subtly expressed lyricism. He places dense minor chords in the lower-middle register to push at the tune's time, contrasted by his quoting of Monk and Ellington with his right hand; then improvising with both. The brief “Equilibrium” reveals classical notions of counterpoint and its relationship to the jazz tradition. “Teleportation” is an angular post-bop tune that nearly swings even in its labyrinthine dissonance and sophisticated technical facility. In “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and “Prelude to a Kiss,” Shipp allows the original melodies to fully inhabit his improvisations -- especially in the physicality of the left hand -- even as his movement of the tunes' architectures expands their margins with an elegant --if somewhat dissonant -- harmonic extrapolation. “Frere Jacques” becomes equal parts Bartók and a musical form of French rondelet, with startlingly forceful lower-register improvisation employed as a bridge. A mysterious composition called “Primal Harmonic” (touching on Bach and Art Tatum) introduces a sharp-edged, yet lovely “Greensleeves” to close out this marvelous program. On 4D, Shipp nods to history with keen depth perception and articulates his new directions gracefully.

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