Multiplication Table

Matthew Shipp Trio

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Multiplication Table Review

by Thom Jurek

When The Multiplication Table was released in 1997, it once and for all threw down a gauntlet to the remaining critics who erroneously chose to see him as a direct spiritual descendent of Cecil Taylor. It was one they couldn't pick up. Shipp has always been a player who has taken the idea of music as a series of worlds and influences and made something entirely new not in response to, but because of them. The Multiplication Table is a kind of suite where Shipp's own compositions and those of his musical forbears such as Duke Ellington, ("C Jam Blues"), Billy Strayhorn ("Take the A Train"), and Joseph Kosma ("Autmun Leaves") are woven into a theory and practice of musical language that extends jazz beyond its known parameters in both traditional and so-called "free" worlds. Shipp's style -- as well as his compatriot's who are both musical giants and bandleaders: bassist William Parker and drummer Susie Ibarra -- is trans-harmonic and, of course, simultaneously trans-tonal. The many timbral shifts and images presented by the trio in the standards and in Shipp's originals detail a kind of evolutionary force at work that seems to respect systems while taking them apart in order to open them up to one another. Whether it's Scriabin's pan-tonality, which is seemingly at work in "ZT1," the lilting touch of an Ahmad Jamal in "The New Fact," or the aggressive re-harmonizing of "C-Jam Blues," Shipp has his fingers on the pulse of something else entirely when it comes to jazz. And this is jazz, make no mistake. There is a swing in his freest passages under girded by Ibarra's light polyrhythmic touch where textures become as important as the ideas she feeds Shipp. Parker, who contours the body of that music and anchors it in any way necessary, carries within his grasp the melodic subtleties and physical force necessary to produce counter timbres and rhythms, allowing Shipp to explore the inner workings of his own inventive muse, not as speculation but as musical statement. Shipp is no mere free jazz player. He is a musician who has already in his short lifetime created new practices of melodic improvisation and a diverse array of approaches to playing the piano that make him a genuine stylist in this music. His only peer, theoretically anyway, is Anthony Braxton, and Shipp is in many ways more open to explore previously held notions of musicality than even he is-which is saying plenty. The Multiplication Table is, along with a previous Hat release, By the Law of Music with strings, Shipp's masterpiece thus far. Mr. Shipp may be the most exciting composer/pianist since Herbie Nichols.

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