Matthew Shipp Duo With William Parker
Thirsty Ear

review by Lang Thompson


In just a few years pianist Matthew Shipp has gone from NYC obscurity to international near-celebrity.  (I knew somebody who worked with him at a famous NYC bookstore--perhaps The Strand--in the early 90s and was surprised but pleased when Shipp first started recording.)  Shipp's fractitious but focused playing is captured on numerous albums both under his leadership as well as in the bands of David S. Ware and Roscoe Mitchell.  He's found a sympathetic partner in the constantly working bassist William Parker, a bandmate from the Ware and Mitchell groups.  This is their second duo album (the first was 1994's Zo) and despite the unwieldy duo name, it's a genuine partnership. DNA opens and closes with swirling versions of the traditional songs "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" and "Amazing Grace" played with any deconstructive leanings held mostly in check, revealing the melodic beauty without succumbing to folksy piety.  The other five pieces show the intertwined playing that the two are famous for.  Despite the Cecil Taylor-ish title of "Cell Structure," there's little of the master's dense sonic shifts instead colliding a series of octave-leaping bluesy riffs against each other.  Parker's calmly rumbling arco work opens "Genetic Alphabet" before Shipp enters with headlong free playing.  Hints of bop appear in the nice title track as Shipp and Parker continually exchange rhythms and rework melodies.  Though not even remotely a comedy album, DNA shows a sense of wit, or at least pleasant confidence, that's a welcome change from the tight-lipped presentation of Serious Art that can infect too many unwary improvisors.  Shipp and Parker are serious and they're artists but that's no reason to feel excluded from their world.

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