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Percussive Piano And Rollicking Swing Float Matthew Shipp's 'Conduct Of Jazz'


This is FRESH AIR. In the last 25 years, New York pianist Matthew Shipp has led his own bands and played with leading lights of new jazz, including William Parker, David S. Ware, Roscoe Mitchell and Evan Parker. Shipp has a new trio record out. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says Shipp's music can be heavy in a good way, like a holiday dinner.


KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Matthew Shipp's trio on the title track of his new album, "The Conduct Of Jazz." That's the kind of lofty title one associates with swing-minded Jazz at Lincoln Center types. But Shipp is a mainstay of New York's downtown free jazz scene. He likes big, blocky chords and making the piano go boom. But here, he contrasts that stuff with bursts of swing time and darting, right-hand melodies.


WHITEHEAD: Some exploratory jazz bands can sound like the musicians are playing past each other, and that can work, too. But Matthew Shipp really locks in with bassist Michael Bisio, an ally for a few years now, and the often rollicking drummer Newman Taylor Baker. Those two can roll with the pianist, hold the line when he goes off on perilous tangent, shore up the the structures or give him room to finish a thought. It's a high-wire trapeze act without a net.


WHITEHEAD: Piano makes a great percussion instrument, as jazz elders from Earl Hines to Cecil Taylor show. In truth, Matthew Shipp can be a bit of a banger at the keyboard with the gleeful abandon of a misbehaving kid. But then he'll come back around from a totally different direction that's a long way from kid stuff.


WHITEHEAD: Matthew Shipp's piano can get a little heavy, like heavy machinery. He likes his machine-like repetitions. But on "The Conduct Of Jazz," bassist Mike Bisio and drummer Newman Baker humanize his approach, limber it up and lighten the load. If Matthew Shipp reminds me of anyone here, it's the not-quite-inside, not-quite-outside jazz pianist Andrew Hill who's slippery music was hard to pin down. That's one good way to approach "The Conduct Of Jazz."

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and is the author of

"Why Jazz?". He reviewed "The Conduct of Jazz" by the Matthew Shipp Trio.

Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, what it's like to be tried as an adult at age 16, serve eight years in adult prisons and then return to the outside world. We talk with poet and memoirist Dwayne Betts, who served eight years for armed carjacking.

Since his release, he's received college degrees, was appointed by President Obama to the coordinating council of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and he's now a student at Yale Law School. I hope you'll join us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, John Myers, John Sheehan, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden and Thea Chaloner. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kevin Whitehead
Kevin Whitehead is the jazz critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Currently he reviews for The Audio Beat and Point of Departure.