Friday, February 05, 2010

40 sentences on 4D



[The new Matthew Shipp album.]

i.

In a perfect world, the third track, "equilibrium," would be the single.

ii.

Though there is a lot of full-on piano pounding here (see iv, below), there is also an amazing lightness of touch throughout. Consider the filigree figures at the end of “the crack in the piano's egg." How can you be playing and sound like you're not playing at the same time?

Indeed, sometimes the music moves almost too fast or too dense to be able to tell what it is.

Looked at another way: some music is designed to work as if it were an Olympic event. Muscular precision that shines at a crucial moment, usually under the glare of the spotlight.

Some music is designed to work like a homemade birthday card. A private exchange that only really has meaning for the two people involved.

iii.

The mechanics of the piano are audible along with the notes. (At least I think it's the mechanics of the piano... perhaps the pads of the fingers sticking slightly to the surface of the keys?)

I'll go further: there's a homeliness to the sound quality that reminds me of how records used to be. (Did you hear Raphael Saadiq's last album, by the way? It was similarly "old-school lo-fi," despite a presumably much higher recording budget. Seems to be a trend with R&B musicians; see too Sharon Jones.)

Shipp: "As a pianist, I love to get great pianos, but I actually think it's probably good sometimes to really have to make bad pianos react to your personality. So I don't really subscribe to the kind of Keith Jarrett baby-ish idea of crying to promoters if the piano's not the greatest piano in the world [...] Thelonious Monk could take any piano and make it sound like himself." (Via Jason Crane's interview for The Jazz Session.)

At times the lo-fi overwhelms, though. The buzzing during "what a friend we have in jesus” is headache-threatening.

Thankfully that piece is less than a minute long. (And as an agnostic, I can't help but read the "bad sound" as a statement about organized religion. I'm sure I'm overreaching, though.)

Incidentally, Shipp performatively grunts probably at least as much as his nemesis, Jarrett (on that score, anyway, they are completely even).

iv.

The music is angry.

For instance, parts of “blue web in space” sound like Shipp is trying to punch the piano in the face. (Ironically, that is one way of getting beauty out of the instrument.)

Hey, I like angry music. Why not? There’s a lot to be angry about.

But maybe I'm guilty of reading this into the music because of Shipp's combative public persona. Which is a subject I don't really want to comment on.

Okay, okay, just one thing: I did like Peter Hum's quotation of Bill Evans, in his own article on the subject: "[...] it just didn't bother me that much as long as there was a little niche that I could find for what I wanted to do."

Problem is, what happens when it becomes hard to even find a niche?

v.

Not sure whether I like the inclusion of the standards. If that's not what you do, why do it?

(I'm not counting "greensleeves" as a standard.)

vi.

While listening (eyes closed), a line from Apocalypse Now popped into my head: “You must make a friend of horror.”

Not because this CD is horrible (it's exactly the opposite), but because it seems to be informed by horror (modern-day weltschmerz-type horror, to be exact).

Consider the gorgeously thunderous version of “frere jacques,” which reminded me of the cinematic technique of employing slightly discordant children's songs in order to create high anxiety during a climactic moment.

[photo credit: wharman]

3 comments:

DJA said...

Consider the gorgeously thunderous version of “frere jacques,” which reminded me of the cinematic technique of employing slightly discordant children's songs in order to create high anxiety during a climactic moment.

"Cinematic," sure, but that one obviously belongs to Mahler (minor-key "Frère Jacques" and all).

Andrew Durkin... said...

Thanks, Darcy! "Obviously" unless, like me, you're unfamiliar with Mahler's First Symphony.

Had to look it up. Wikipedia (clearly the authority on all matters musical) sez: "[T]he mode change to minor might not have been an invention by Mahler, as is often believed, but rather the way this round was sung in the 19th century and early 20th century in Austria."

Does that sound right?

In any case, reading back, I think I may have overdramatized the point in "vi" -- but I don't think it's every player who can get all that thunder into something as small as a piano...

Andrew Durkin... said...

Okay, I just listened to the Mahler, and, assuming I've got the right bit (third movement, first symphony?), it is very different from the Shipp track. For one thing, Shipp plays the tune manically fast. Second, the "Frere Jacques" part as Shipp plays it is actually not minor -- the dissonance / creepiness is created, as far as I can tell, by playing the melody as it is generally known today (i.e., with the major third), while alternating, in the left hand, between the tonic of the key, the flat second, and sometimes the major second (plus a lot of clustery low notes).