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Pianist Matthew Shipp and drummer Whit Dickey are two major forces in New York’s Downtown scene. They have been working frequently for more than three decades now. Beginning in Shipp Trio (with double bass player William Parker, «Circular Temple», Infinite Zero, 1994), later in David S. Ware’s Quartet and other incarnations of Shipp Trio and Quartet and with sax player Ivo Perelman. Recently, Dickey hosted Shipp for their first duo album plus a trio album with trumpeter Nate Wooley on «Morph» (ESP Disk, 2020) and in his Trio (with sax player Rob Brown, «Expanding Light», released on Dickey’s label, Tao Forms, 2020); Shipp hosted Dickey in his Trio (with double bass player Michael Bisio, «The Unidentifiable», ESP Disk, 2020), and both guested in Perelman Trio («Garden of Jewels», Tao Forms, 2021). «Reels» was recorded on a single day at Park West Studios in Brooklyn in March 2019. Like previous projects of Shipp and Dickey, «Reels» finds these idiosyncratic improvisers in top form, totally attuned to every detail in each other’s playing, and bursting with fresh and bold ideas.

The cover art of «Reels» suggests the experimental films of Stan Brakhage, and the ten conversational duets of Shipp and Dickey are often frenetic and disorienting as Brakhage’s films but are much more exploratory. The album opens and closes with the contemplative and melancholic «Lattice» and «Icing», with Dickey’s precise and subtle cymbals work and Shipp’s introspective and minimalist melodies. Surprisingly, these two ethereal pieces sound as corresponding with the ECM’s legacy of refined chamber jazz.

In between these two intimate pieces, Shipp and Dickey explore more muscular and intense dynamics. They dance around cyclical, repetitive rhythmic patterns on «Cosmic Train» and «Hold Tight». The lyrical «Moon Garden» and playful «Magma» highlight the evocative and poetic drumming of Dickey while «Fire Dance» stresses how his understated playing intrigues Shipp. «Vector», «Silent Ice» and the title piece emphasize the tight yet highly nuanced rhythmic synergy that Shipp and Dickey developed over the years.

In the musical universe of Shipp and Dickey, nothing is obvious, and its rare beauty comes in many forms and shapes.

Eyal Hareuveni

Matthew Shipp (p), Whit Dickey (dr)  

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