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Mouthing Matt's Mantra

Matthew Shipp, William Parker and Mat Maneri constitute a group seemingly impervious to pursuing anything other than the apotheosis of what they do. These musicians demonstrate such confidence in their attitude, approach, and propensity for simply diving into making their music that bringing it into question well that would reveal a complete lack of vision, interest, and willingness to discover on the percipient's part.

All suited up, the members of the trio moved onto the stage at the Blue Note. I felt as though I was to ready myself for listening to a formal concerto for piano, bass and viola.

The music began with a note by note midrange piano line. The bass took its pivotal place as Parker played a descending pizzicato pattern. Maneri breathed in and pulled the bow across the strings of his viola claiming his spot in the arena; the notes he played were in a spatial counterpoint to Parker’s dissonant plucks. The music came across as structured even though much of it was improvised. From over there, over there, and over there, the energy grew ceaselessly.

The energy was activated from the vocabulary that each musician has at his fingertips. The vocabulary of each is developed so thoroughly that not only does it have a distinctive vibrancy of its own but can also evolve cooperatively with the vocabularies of the other musicians. The three vocabularies create one language. This musical language stretches the bounds of the context normally associated with "jazz." This musical language establishes the standard for a new century, the one we are in...the 21st century.

Shipp’s huge rumbling ground breaking chords were complemented with an often repeated hand over hand gesture, from treble to bass; the left hand remained in the center of the keyboard. The phrasings emanating from the left hand were tuneful, yet evanescently thematic and destructible into an array of abstractions which necessitated retrieving the right hand to play. On the whole, the piano sound elicited a sense of expansion and contraction. In the calmer bridging zones, Shipp went inside the piano to the sounding board and plucked the strings as if he were playing a celeste. Shipp’s manipulation of contrasting tonal episodes is unsurpassed.

Essentially, Shipp and Maneri balanced each other with Parker as the fulcrum. Maneri manifested an intensity that forecast a thickening tension. His bowing was so forceful that the sound it made could lift you off your seat. To supply the fullness of the string sounds in relation to the strength of the piano and so that he would not miss a step, Parker bolted his eyes to Maneri, who would shift from one opposing dynamic to another, from one opposing pitch to another. Parker assumed the responsibility of relieving the tension arching over him, produced together by the piano and viola. The first cycle of prevalent tautness, Parker broke by bowing a literally outstanding high pitch at the top of the neck of the bass. The music leveled, became quieter, and transformed into a duet between Maneri and Parker.

The next cycle began. Shipp joined the duo. The rhythm exploded. At one point, Shipp was so completely mesmerized by how the music was proceeding that he began to stamp his foot as if he were keeping time with a bass drum. Parker continually exercised his position to keep the players on his left and right bonded. His method of playing glissandos, leaning into the body of the bass, bowing with one hand and scraping the strings in a downward motion with the other hand, over and over again, was another striking method of curtailing the sonic power surges.

Maneri displayed his inimitable way of playing tremolos; the aggregation of the tiniest changes in pitch became a fluid, mellifluous current that carried itself for minutes and minutes. Then, he might strike the strings----once, twice, three times; then, again, once, twice three times; then again, one, twice, three times. When he hit high notes, they would inevitably melt into larger statements conversant with the piano. Maneri released himself into a physical expression of the power of the music when he bounced the bow on the strings. But, it was not long before sweet, alluring sounds vibrated from his viola.

It is valuable to perceive that Maneri’s talent lies in his ability to determine the timing of the choices he makes when he plays. Everything he does is an example of how indigenous the details of his craft are; the details are the glue for the poignancy of his playing. Were those exquisitely chosen details in his playing absent, Maneri would be someone else.

Moving into closing, the three players explicitly, though gradually, downshifted. They needed to take a deep breath before the final rising up rising up in a glorious religious sense. Shipp spoke monumental volumes in chord after chord. Maneri charged himself with sustaining on the viola, the command that those piano chords took. Parker responded to break the stress; his bow trembled back and forth across the bass strings. Maneri countered Parker. The piano became more quiet, more toned down. A quick pianissimo chord followed and the music was done.

On my way, home late that night, I felt as though I had been completely embraced. I felt so safe, so comfortable, so imbued with the emotions that had transformed me, immersed me in a clear non-academic sea, for one hour one hour that will rest in my memory as a once in a lifetime experience. If the moments that made up that one hour weren’t so fleeting, they wouldn’t be as special.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Matthew Shipp String Trio
  • Concert Date: 7/18/2005
  • Subtitle: The Matthew Shipp String Trio at the Blue Note
  • Venue: Blue Note
  • City State Country: New York City
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