Matthew Shipp respects the jazz tradition, but he is not bound to it in any manner. Signature is the latest release of his long-running trio, this version including Michael Bisio on bass and Newman Taylor Baker on drums. Despite a few walking bass lines and appealing microtunes, it would be inaccurate to say that any of these ten tracks truly swing. Shipp’s restless and intellectual approach to the piano does not allow him to rely on the same melodic structures for long, while Bisio and Baker are a free-improv backing section (the notion of “rhythm” is present but de-emphasized).
The self-titled introductory track is an example of Shipp’s ruminative stylings. Thoughtful jazz and classical motifs mix and match throughout his catchy yet unconventional leads. Baker remains unusually busy on this marginally-downtempo offering, while Bisio’s basswork involves sonorous slides as well as explorations that diverge from and then return to following Shipp. Perhaps the most aggressive piece is Flying Saucer, a rapid-fire exercise in disjoint pacing with an energy level that is in overdrive. Bisio and Baker providing their own iconoclastic deviations that make the sum of the parts sound as if all three performers are doing their own things. And yet, these complex units somehow fit together. Stage Ten is the most straight-ahead track of the bunch and even approaches a groove, but also includes subtle percussive abstractions from Shipp as well as more than a few fractured notes.
Go ahead and pick up any recording with Shipp as a leader that has been released over the last 30 years. I dare you to even try to find one isn’t good (spoiler alert: they are all good). But Signature is a high point for Shipp in a career that consists of a remarkable number of high points. There is an unusual amount and richness of content coming from this iteration of Shipp’s trio. Highly recommended.