Thursday, November 19, 2020

Allen Shawn, Michael Bisio, Improvisations


Anyone who has read this blog, the Gapplegate Music Review and my Cadence reviews from some years ago no doubt knows that I very much appreciate Michael Bisio's acoustic bass playing a great deal and consider him as among a handful of the very most accomplished and innovative Jazz-Improv bassists out there today. So I was very happy to be sent his latest CD outing with pianist-composer Allen Shawn. 

Michael has been playing for the past several years in pianist Matthew Shipp's Trio, a state-of-the-art outfit if there ever was one. The current outing changes things up as a duo and with a different chemistry born of a different set of intersecting backgrounds. It all makes for an equally absorbing but essentially varying stylistic amalgam.

The album is aptly and matter-of-factly called Improvisations (self released). It is a wide-ranging series of seemingly mostly spontaneous improvisations of Michael and Allen Shawn, both of whom teach at Bennington, Michael bass and Allen composition. The fact that Allen composes orchestral-chamber-piano New Music is somewhat telling in how at times he structures his improvisations. Yet there is a deep internal referencing of the Jazz tradition to be heard, too, quite happily. The Shawn-Bisio intersection on the faculty at Bennington is musically quite fortunate as  you no doubt will realize when you listen to this first collaboration.

Some improvisations give us a song-like or a generally pre-structured way of going at it. Others have more pronounced improvisational freedom. The first improv makes me think of Mingus in the best ways. The final piece is mesmeric-cyclic and then a very attractive anthemic theme that reminds one of a Charlie Haden-Carla Bley evergreen in its own way.

Bisio sounds especially inspired by Shawn's open-ended presence, both harmonically-intervalically and melodically. And Shawn in turn seems to delight in the response he gets as it spurs him onward to dig ever more deeply for further musical insights.

It is a magical mix of bold ideas and intensive duo considerations. Anyone with an interest in "serious" music, duo interactions, improvised music, bass and piano performance excellence as it continues to thrive undaunted by the upheavals of recent events, this one is most definitely for you. Highly recommended. A marvel!

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