Matthew Shipp Trio Root of Things (Relative Pitch, March 18): Here’s what I wrote about pianist Matthew Shipp in a 2010 Wall Street Journal piece: “Shipp’s style knows no single pattern…. Even on his earliest recordings, some 20 years ago—specifically those in a quartet led by the powerhouse saxophonist David S. Ware—Shipp stirred up fervent rhythmic propulsion and wove fresh, web-like harmonic patterns. His playing sounded new then, and does still.” Update: Still does. The hypnotic beauty of his 2013 CD, “Piano Sutras” (Thirsty Ear), his seventh solo disc, argued for him entering the studio by himself every time. And yet this new CD by Shipp’s trio with bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey builds on that group’s well-established rapport. It showcases in a different way than the solo format the elegant flow, the subtle shifts of mood and time, and the often mysterious glow that define Shipp’s pianism, which by now stands as both emblematic and singular in terms of what modern jazz can be.
Roy Nathanson & Sotto Voce Complicated Day (Enja/Yellowbird, April 8): Seems that Nathanson has changed the title of this CD from “The Nettle Tree” in the months since we did an interview about the project. But the tune of that name, drawn from a poem by Nathanson’s friend and fellow poet, Gerald Stern, is among the most gripping tracks here. There’s no one like Nathanson that I know of, whose musicianship (as a saxophonist and bandleader) neither overshadows nor trails his talent as a poet and conceptualist. And there’s nothing like his drummerless Sotto Voce band, anchored by beatboxer Napoleon Maddox, and, for this CD, augmented by Jerome Harris on guitar and banjolin (a cross between a banjo and mandolin). When we spoke last year, Nathanson told me that he thought this CD marked “the closest I’ve come to making the songs and song structures into their own actual poems.” Good as Nathanson’s pure creations are here—his lyrics are satisfying reads without the music—I keep returning to his remake of the 1972 Johnny Nash hit “I Can See Clearly Now”—a song I thought I’d heard covered too many times until I listened to this Afro-Latinized version, arranged by bassist Tim Kiah and sung with purity of tone and sincerity of heart by Nathanson’s son, Gabriel, who also plays trumpet on the track.
Erik Friedlander Nighthawks (Skipstone, May 20): I met John Zorn for an interview (in connection with his coming four-night spectacular at Australia’s Adelaide Festival) just as he was finishing up lunch with his longtime collaborators, bassist Greg Cohen and cellist Erik Friedlander. The last time I heard Friedlander play, he was sitting between the colossal winged and human-headed lion and bull, each wearing horns of divinity, that guard the main audience hall of the ninth-century B.C. Assyrian palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud, of northern Mesopotamia, within Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gallery for Assyrian Art. (Part of an all-day celebration of Zorn’s music.) There, the sometime pleading microtones of “Volac,” from Zorn’s “Book of Angels,” as voiced by Friedlander, seemed an extension of the cuneiform inscriptions that line the gallery’s walls. His magnificent playing and versatility in projects led by Zorn and others sometimes make me forget what a compelling composer and leader Friedlander is. This new CD is the latest from his Bonebridge Quartet, which includes the members of his former trio, bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Michael Sarin, along with Doug Wamble on slide guitar. The music blends the twang and energy of Southern rock with the edge and ambition of downtown Manhattan (along with other influences) to achieve something we might call “Americana,” in the way that term refers to Bill Frisell’s sound—cousin to real roots music of various lineages, yet a wholly imagined space.