Essential New Music: Matthew Shipp Trio’s “Signature”

Matthew Shipp is an obliging sort of guy. After every second or third album, he questions the point of making more records—and he may go so far as to announce his retirement from recording. Then he comes back and makes some more records. Let’s make this perfectly clear: Matthew Shipp doesn’t need to retire anytime soon. He has too many good ideas for how to accompany saxophonists (lately, the lucky guys are Ivo Perelman, Mat Walerian and Evan Parker), how to make an unaccompanied piano sound like the mysteries of the cosmos made manifest, and how to grow fresh green produce from the over-farmed patch of musical turf known as the piano trio.

The latter is what he, bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker do on Signature. They understand that their chosen format’s hoariest cliché is also its chief virtue. It’s a perfect setting to demonstrate close interaction between players, but it’s also full of prior examples of how you’re supposed to do it. But free jazz means being free to do it your way, never mind the supposition, and this trio’s way is to strip things back to essentials and then move with purposeful economy through the spaces they’ve opened up. Stark, swinging and magnetic, this music rewards deep-drilling exploration by players and listeners alike. Please don’t quit anytime soon, Mr. Shipp. 

—Bill Meyer