Ear Candy: On Matthew Shipp and Michael Bisio’s Live in Seattle

The 1947 remembering-a-lover-lost song “Green Dolphin Street” by composer Bronislaw Kaper and lyricist Ned Washington is one of those standards that jazz musicians have interpreted and reinterpreted for more than half a century. The plush, almost decadent melody becomes a springboard for performer’s personalities, whether it be Ahmad Jamal’s unflappable cool, Miles Davis’ confident vulnerability, or Wynton Kelly’s bluesy elation. When pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist Michael Bisio tackle the standard on their new album Live in Seattle, what you hear are two eloquent and versatile veterans balance intelligence and warmth without ever slipping into the nostalgia and traditionalism that a can be a standard’s musical quicksand. Their sympathetic and sparring duet makes “Green Dolphin Street” sound emotionally romantic and forlorn now, not evocative of some imagined, idealized past.

The entire album feels as spry and fresh. Bisio and Shipp have, I think, played and recorded together for nearing a decade now, and their ongoing collaboration continues to produce a wealth of music that is as expressively moving as it is intellectually astute. Unlike last year’s The Conduct of Jazz, a stunning statement that felt like it was engaging with and commenting upon the jazz trio format, Live in Seattle sounds like two musicians with their hearts and minds set to thrill. It’s an album that sees avant-leaning vocabulary and musical pleasure as inescapably enmeshed, where Bisio’s seemingly atonal high-pitched bowed bass lines become the apt accompaniment to Shipp’s achingly melancholic reading of the melody to Rogers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine.”

Quite simply, it’s a musically complex album that mines an emotional landscape of the everyday. Consider Bisio and Shipp’s engaging take on Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway’s 1972 hit “Where is the Love”. Shipp handles the song’s melody and meter while Bisio paints abstract rhythmic textures behind him. Together they take the song into rhythmically meditative spaces until it’s a whorl of piano chords and bass throb before easing back into the song’s hummable melody.

More fun are what they do with Shipp’s originals, such as the rhythmically knotty “Psychic Counterpart” from 2012’s Elastic Aspects and “New Fact,” a song that is, I think, a robust update of “The New Fact” from the 1998 quartet album, The Multiplication Table. Live in Seattle‘s “New Fact” is a powerful, gorgeous dance where the bass and piano seemingly drift apart into their own paths and circle around to share an orbit again and again.

To get a sense of the nimble relationship Bisio and Shipp share, just consider what he brings to a single Shipp composition. On the 2006 solo piano album One, Shipp’s “Gamma Ray” is a meditative exploration in which he moves from melodic lines to dense improvisations, from elegant passages to dizzying sequences. When “Gamma Ray” appeared on Shipp’s 2011 live trio album Art of the Improviser with Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey, Shipp tackled the song solo; the tempo feels slightly accelerated, its dynamic shifts more angular, and as a result its melody feels more physically dense. On Live in Seattle Bisio and Shipp stretch “Gamma Rays” out to nine and half minutes, with Bisio putting a ghost of a pulse behind Shipp’s lines. When Shipp comes to the composition’s rush of pointillistic piano notes around the seven-minute mark, Bisio marks a thwumping time behind him until they’re both sounding dense, percussive sheets of sound from their instruments, a soulfully ineffable eruption of beauty.

Painting and cooking metaphors come all too easily to mind for moments like this, those situations where a mix of sophisticated skill and expressive know-how ignite a complex and esthetically visceral response. Live in Seattle is just that, a delicious, sumptuous feast for the ears and the wrinkled brain between them.

Matthew Shipp and Michael Bisio play An die Musik April 12 at 8 p.m.


A list of writers

OK, so because I was ignoring the internet for most of the weekend I didn’t pay much attention to the Gay Talese thing until this morning. So while standing at the home desk with this morning’s coffee I wanted to see if I could do any better. The below is a list of women journalists, critics, and nonfiction writers who inspire me and/or I admire and/or whose bylines I seek out simply because they’re good at what they do. In no particular order, by no means exhaustive, heavy on music & culture writers because that’s what I read a great deal of, I did cheat a bit by looking around at the piles of magazines laying about the desk and nearby bookshelf and used titles for memory clues, and I didn’t include a number of people I know personally and/or have/currently work with as I felt that might be playing favorites in some way. Included brief IDs for some names, figured the names who I didn’t ID needed no intro.

Also: am sharing not to be one of those not-all-men asshats but as an invitation for others to tell me what women journos they read on the regular as well. Like I said, what came to my mind is heavy on arts/culture and the publications I regularly read so am always looking for more bylines to pay attention to.

Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times‘s crime fiction columnist since the late 1980s—I know I just said this list is in no particular order but Stasio immediately came to mind for me because in many ways she’s the platonic ideal of a critic to me: highly informative, economically entertaining, and somebody you trust not because you agree with everything she says or her tastes, but because you have utter faith in her succinct ability to communicate what’s in her brain without wasting your time.

Andrea ‘Enthal, who penned the Underground column for SPIN pre-Byron Coley, and who was responsible for making me aware/turning me onto the very idea that things I had never heard about or known existed were worth seeking out and experiencing for myself.

The late art critic & historian/curator Arlene Raven, Baltimore-born, Hopkins-educated, who I had never heard about until her 2006 death, and since then the 1989 book she edited, Art in the Public Interest, has become as interesting and oft-referred to text for me as Daniel Bell’s The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism.

The late Molly Ivins, political columnist/reporter & OG badass

Ellen Willis, music critic and formidable essayist

The late Jill Johnston, dance critic and utter original

Alma Guillermoprieto, Mexican journalist and longtime Latin American correspondent for the New Yorker, The New York Review of Books

Barbara Ehrenreich

Jamilah Lemieux, culture critic

Lorrain Ali, veteran music & culture critic/reporter

Danyel Smith, music and features writer

Mona Eltahawy

Rebecaa Solnit

dream hampton, veteran music/culture writer

Geeta Dayal, music/features writer

Lucy Lippard, art critic

Amy Taubin, film critic

Carol Cooper, veteran music/culture writer, early Spin introduced me to her byline

Laila Lalami, The Nation contributor/essayist

Caitlin Moran, British music/culture writer, co-creator of the fab TV series Raised by Wolves

Melissa Gira Grant

Catherine Taft, art critic/curator

Naomi Klein

Melissa Harris-Perry

Sylvie Simmons, music writer

Gina Arnold, music writer

Donna Gaines, music writer

Molly Haskell, film writer

Jamaica Kincaid

Janet Kutner, Dallas art critic

Libby Lumpkin, art critic

Ingrid Sischy, art writer/editor

Susan Faludi

Joy Press, music & arts writer

Rachel Kushner, Artforum & Bomb contributor, in addition to being a novelist

Linda Yablonsky, longtime Artforum contributor and veteran art critic

Tricia Romano, features writer

Ann Powers, music writer/editor

Rosalind Krauss, art critic, October co-founding editor

Jessica Hopper, music writer/editor/visionary

Julianne Escobedo Shepard, music & pop culture writer

Sia Michel, features writer/editor

Lillian Roxon, music critic

Hannah McGill, film critic

Andrea Grimes, Texas Observer, investigative reporter/culture critic

Heather Havrilesky, one of the many funny-smart writers that the late, great suck.com clued me into.

Melissa del Bosque, Texas Observer investigative reporter

Michelle Tea, essayist

Anne Midgette, classical music critic/reporter

Karen Durbin, veteran film/TV critic

Joan Acocella, New Yorker dance critic

Katy Vine, Texas Monthly features writer

Pamela Colloff, Texas Monthly features writer

Mimi Swartz, Texas Monthly features writer

Emily Nussbaum, New Yorker TV critic

Karina Longworth, film critic/writer

Molly Lambert, all-purpose pop culture writer and assassin of trite, conventional thought