CBSO Centre, Birmingham UK
Reviewed by JJ Wheeler
Entering the familiar surrounding of the CBSO Centre with little knowledge of what I was about to hear was an exciting prospect. Although audience numbers were perhaps a little low, there was an immediate sense of anticipation in the air, a willingness to witness the exploration of possibilities within the traditional piano trio setting.
Armed only with the title of Shipp’s current album release Art Of The Improviser and a comment from a friend that “this could be quite avant-garde”, the rate at which the trio strode into long passages of (seemingly) free improvisation actually took me by surprise. So much so that it took a while to get into the music.
However, this was not the biggest surprise of the night. That came when the trio finally revealed what they were actually doing was playing a standards gig! The first audible melody being On Green Dolphin Street, alongside outings of various other favourites including What Is This Thing Called Love, children’s favourite The Animals Went In Two By Two (Hurrah!) and a short encore on Take The ‘A’ Train.
The trio would take fragments of the melodies, improvising off one section, before developing once, twice, three times until a completely new mood or texture was created, a springboard for further improvisation. Following a string of successive ideas the trio exchanged phrases and each took solo passages, either accompanied or (in the case of bass and drums, once each) unaccompanied.
Underneath Summertime, Shipp chose a seven chord series played in consecutive time, which reminded me of post-rock/live electronic band 65 Days Of Static, contrasting greatly with the previous sheets of notes, cascading like a waterfall from the Steinway at which he sat. Whit Dickey on drums mainly opted out of playing strict time, instead described by the bandleader as “playing like a percussionist”, more inclined to creating textures and colours than grooves.
The creativity and willingness to follow wherever their ears led them has to justify the title of their latest recorded output; this really was a display of interesting, multi-layered improvisation – a masterclass to all in attendance.
Categories: Live review