Matthew Shipp Quartet - Sonic Fiction

Label: ESP-Disk, 2018

Personnel - Matthew Shipp: piano; Mat Walerian: reeds; Michael Bisio: bass; Whit Dickey: drums.

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Pianist Matthew Shipp, whose original voice constantly surprises and hypnotizes, returns in full force, spearheading a creative quartet with Polish multi-instrumentalist Mat Walerian, bassist Michael Bisio, and drummer Whit Dickey. 

The follow up to the marvelous trio session Piano Song (Thirsty Ear, 2016) was released on the ESP-Disk label with the title Sonic Fiction and comprises ten tracks that explore mood through different sonic possibilities.

The quartet opens with “First Step”, where plaintive yet tense piano voicings, solemnly bowed bass, rambling saxophone lines, and whimsical cymbal impacts converge within an intimate, dramatic, and often mysterious musical setting.

The drum-less “Blues Addiction” shows the musicians’ respect for the blues genre and the enormous talent to bring it in spontaneously with a unique, visionary approach. Unaccompanied, Shipp starts by introducing sinuous bluesy lines supported by incisive bass notes inflicted with the left-hand, but his enveloping sound is suddenly muted to give place to an elastic duet of round bass plucks and velvety clarinet lines.
 
The Station”, the first of a couple of solo pieces, is intended for Walerian’s bass clarinet, gaining avant-garde connotations through the use of ruminative jargon, long multi-pitched wails, occasional motifs, and other sonic splotches.

Before “Easy Flow” has been cooked up with an uncompromising solo piano, the full quartet delivers consecutive “Lines of Energy”, which may comfort or disquiet you. Expect striking action-reaction between Shipp and Walerian.

The powerful avant-jazz of “The Problem of Jazz”, suppressing the piano,  works through a brisk swinging groove laid down by Bisio, which is periodically overcome by saxophone attacks tied to irruptions of energetic drumming.

The last three tracks immediately caught my attention. On the playful “3 by 4”, abundant rhythmic ideas packed with crisp accents and no apparent regard to form are constantly thrown in. A small part of its throttling energy is extended to “Cell in the Brain”, a piece that emphasizes tonal qualities more than melodic statements. Despite the predominant tranquility, the increase/release of tension is constantly fed by Whitey’s mallet activity.

The title track is the recording’s longest piece and one of the most ravishing as it ends the session with multiple intricacies, oblique moves, and extra angularity in the texture. Embracing a groovy atmosphere, it nearly enters free-bop zones with Walerian’s alto sax digressions on top of Shipp’s cluster-infused comping and jabbing left-hand detonations. It's pretty evocative of Cecil Taylor's early work.
 
With Bisio and Dickey assuring a firm foundation, Shipp and Walerian ascend the stairway to the stars, putting their eminent rapport at the service of another impressive release.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:  
08 - 3 by 4 ► 09 - Cell in the Brain ► 10 – Sonic Fiction