Critics and fans have used a host of words to describe the compositions of this week's guest, composer/pianist Matthew Shipp. The Wilmington, Del., native's music has been called inventive, free, challenging, rich, tapestry-like and playful. But the most common descriptor is "unique" — a great word to describe this session of Piano Jazz.
At the beginning of the session he tells Marian McPartland, "I like to be felt. If I'm successful ... it hits people on many different levels."
There are many different emotional strands in Shipp's music, and one can hear his roots quite clearly, ranging from his interest in the organ music played at the Episcopal Church of his youth, to the classical lessons he began at age five, the diverse jazz recordings his parents collected (which Shipp started devouring when he was 12) and his studies at the New England Conservatory of Music.
The session features three of Shipp's compositions. He solos on "Module," as well as "Patmos," a tune that paints a very clear scene for McPartland: "I actually get a picture of some people in a forest, walking through the trees." Their duet on "Gamma Ray" is something of a departure from Shipp's often dramatic style, with its playfulness and Thelonius Monk-like angularity.
When Shipp plays the standards he offers startling revelations. "Angel Eyes" expands with thick chords and rumbling arpeggios, creating dramatic tension and release. He inspires McPartland to take a page from his notebook when she plays Duke Ellington's "Warm Valley," her solid left hand often providing counterpoint to the melodic inventions she hangs on what Shipp calls Ellington's "rock-solid backbone."
McPartland's "Portrait of Matthew" also incorporates some of Shipp's style, painting a complex and thoughtful portrait of him. Afterwards, she tells him, "It's inspiring to hear someone like you play, because it does make me sort of think differently."
McPartland and Shipp play three other duets, including the Gershwin classic "Summertime," which transforms into a classically-inspired fantasia, as well as John Coltrane's "Naima." They close with an inspired "C-Jam Blues," an almost baroque, bluesy fugue that alternately walks, skips, strolls and struts.
Originally recorded March 7, 2006.