Matthew Shipp Trio - Circular Temple
The Free Jazz Collective 0
By Gary Chapin
In a recent review of The Hasaan, Hope & Monk Project (by the Pandelis Karayorgis Trio), Stuart Broomer referenced an essay by Matthew Shipp about a time-spanning group of pianists he described as Black Mystery School Pianists. The list included Monk, Elmo Hope, Cecil Taylor, Herbie Nichols, and Mal Waldron, among many others. I had never thought of these pianists as a subset of jazz pianists, but reading the essay, it totally works—it’s fascinating. Go read it.
I was especially struck by the mention of Waldron. I have a deep and abiding love of Waldron’s playing and I think he is, if not unsung then undersung—with most of the singing being about his time with Dolphy and Booker Little (or Billie Holiday). And, from the first time I heard Shipp, I’ve sensed a kinship between Waldron and Shipp. There are surface indicators. They both use repetition in an amazingly intriguing way. They both treat the lower middle register as a long-time lover. But there are other connections, mysteries, I would say.
So, imagine me listening to Matthew Shipp reissued 1990 trio recording, Circular Temple,to prepare for this review, and then, in another context, Spotify shuffle brings up Waldron’s 1974 wonderful Up Popped the Devil . A trio recording with Reggie Workman and Billy Higgins. I don’t want to belabor this (“Too late,” I hear you), but the sense of continuity from one artist/generation to the other is exquisite.
Circular Temple features Whit Dickey and William Parker. Its re-release is framed as part of a reconsideration of Shipp’s immense catalogue, an appreciation, a retrospective for an “elder statesman.” It is as “essential” a recording as one could imagine from Shipp, Dickey, and Parker. A suite in four parts beginning in a deep reflective space, and quickly becoming more stabby and ominous, the three move from space to space, following each other’s leads at different times, working in groups of twos and threes. Whit Dickey reminds us just how much melodicism developed out of Kenny Clarke’s bop innovation of “dropping bombs.”
I mention bop because Dickey himself mentioned that the 2 nd part of the suite is a “bebop extravaganza.” I’m not sure I see that. I can see where, like Andrew Hill or Don Pullen or Waldron, this bridges to late late late bop-influence, but really its an extravaganza in its own right. They subtitle the section “Monk’s Nightmare,” an arch provocation if ever I heard one, even if the trio does seem to reference or reflect or rhyme with Powell and Monk in places. Circular Templeneeds no adducement to tradition to justify our awe.
What gets me with this trio, is the utterly bottomless well of creativity that comes forth, and how the streams of one of the trio feed the streams of the others. Section 3 is an extraordinary short emerging from Parker’s arco thinkings, the three sound like characters in a Beckett play. Section 4 is the grand opus of the set, opening with Shipp solo song and then building piece by piece, texture by texture, dynamic by dynamic to an elegiac ending some 25 minutes later.
It's good to see attention being drawn to this absolutely essential recording.
Circular Temple by Matthew Shipp