critic’s pick 55

On the surface, the piano trios of Matthew Shipp and Keith Jarrett could not seem more dissimilar. True to that notion, their respective new recordings operate with seemingly different mind sets. Shipp’s Harmonic Disorder is another exploration of rhythmic disassembly and discovery while Jarrett’s Yesterdays continues to reshape jazz standards into vibrant new melodic molds.

Both recordings will be released on Tuesday.

matthew shipp: harmonic disorder

matthew shipp: harmonic disorder

Curiously, the two trios cross paths in fleeting and wonderfully unexpected ways on these albums. Shipp, who remains one of the most original improvisatory piano voices of his generation, doesn’t hide inspirations at all on Harmonic Disorder. The album opening GNG, for example, reflects the spirit of Thelonious Monk in its playful, harmonic abandon. Of course, the pianist and his rhythm mates, bassist Joe Morris and drummer Walt Dickey, sound in no way sound derivative of the great Monk. Harmonic Disorder is instead a friendly tug of war. You hear in the taut piano processional of Compost the solemn, almost brittle way Morris follows the pianist’s every move. That the tune also possesses a lyrical structure that lovingly implodes upon itself – a trait that surfaces on Shipp’s fine solo piano recordings (most notably 2007’s brilliant One) is a bonus.

Shipp has a taste for standards, as well, although the light melody of There Will Never Be Another You is taken to the shadows with rich percussive rolls and the sort of dark swing that approximates a car chase. That’s the sort of reinvention that has become a Shipp trademark. Almost as stormy is Shipp’s take on Someday My Prince Will Come. Coincidentally recorded by the Jarrett trio in 1986, Shipp lets the melody, still full of abundant warmth, rise out of a rhythmic firestorm. It enters and fades like a voice in the distance. Like much of Harmonic Disorder, there are simply too many other improvisatory ideas at work to give a melody so familiar complete run of the trio’s playhouse.

keith jarrett: yesterdays

keith jarrett: yesterdays

With Yesterdays, we are presented with something of an archival recording cut in Tokyo in April 2001. Jarrett aficionados might remember this as the time and locale that gave us Always Let Me Go, a stunning 2002 album of improvisations. While melody is still king during Yesterdays‘ jovial performances of Horace Silver’s Strollin’ and the Charlie Parker staple Scrapple from the Apple, there is a wonderful expansiveness to the recording. Credit much of that to bassist Peacock, who, frankly, has seldom played with more cunning during his 25 years with the Jarrett trio than on this album.

On You’ve Changed – performed over the past 60 years as a vocal tune by everyone from Nat King Cole to Joni Mitchell – Jarrett balances warmth and melancholy with beautiful piano reserve and a commendable lack of sentimentality. But listen close and Peacock follows his footsteps to create a conversational give-and-take that mirrors the dynamics, though not necessarily the tone, of what Shipp and Morris cook up on Compost.

Sure, the pianists remain stylistic variants of different generations. But on these two recordings, Shipp and Jarrett link the lessons of melody and improvisation as well as the ways they compliment, agitate and spur their respective trios on.

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