Matthew Shipp and Whit Dickey have a long history together, spanning almost three decades. While they have been parts of numerous trios and quartets, as far as I can tell this is their only duo recording aside from disc 1 of Dickey’s 2020 release, Morph. Nonetheless, after all that time collaborating, one might think that they have run the gamut of sounds and expressions for piano and drums. But that notion is wrong. If anything, Reels is one of their freshest and most compelling efforts.
Shipp is a jazz pianist who can play classical, or maybe a classical pianist who can play jazz. On these ten improvisations, he pounds chord structures straight out of a 19th-century sonata. His approach is minimalist at times but his patterns are not overly repetitive. The sheer power coming off the keys prevents that from happening, as is the case in Cosmic Train, Vector, and the title track. When not playing so aggressively, Shipp throws in a subtle vamp or blues meandering, such as the beginning to Hold Tight. In and around these efforts from Shipp, Dickey phases between following and leading. Heavy on the snare and cymbals, he matches Shipp’s power. But when not doing that, he is elusive and almost playful – difficult to pin down as he heads off on tangents.
Reels is a dense, information-rich album with plenty of notes to keep your synapses firing. While extemporaneous, I would not call this free jazz. There is some spaciousness in the downtempo tracks, but Shipp and Dickey stretch their instruments and abilities without going too far outside. In sum, this is a highly enjoyable piano/drum output, thick with energy.
Reels comes out on Burning Ambulance Music July 23.