Clifford Allen's Ni Kantu review of At Oto

Matthew Shipp / John Butcher

At Oto presents three soli and one duo between Shipp and British saxophonist John Butcher, recorded at the venerable London concert space in 2010 and issued on the Fataka imprint. This was their first meeting, although such a collaboration shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, since Shipp has also worked in duet with vanguard saxophonists Evan Parker, Roscoe Mitchell, Darius Jones and Rob Brown, all of whom reshape the instrument's vocabulary.
Butcher isolates and extends approaches hinted at by Parker, and his harmonic wellspring is a natural foil for Shipp's area of expertise. Of course the saxophone and piano are different instruments and unearthing harmonic corners within their mechanics requires different methods - facial muscles, breath and valves in one and the use of body, key pressure and foot pedals on the other - but if the processes differ, their execution grants striking parallels.

Both Shipp and Butcher utilize relatively unadorned statements to begin with, subtly altering their shape to allow entry into a broad range of areas, manipulating narrower sounds to create complex structure. One wouldn't think that it's possible to bend notes on the piano the way that Butcher does on the soprano or create the same sort of breathy resonance that the saxophonist does with the tenor, but Shipp is a different sort of pianist. His solo "Fundamental Field" picks up where soprano leaves off on "Mud/Hiss" and twists lithe progressions against fluttering right-hand stabs and voluminous refrains.

The duo, "Generative Grammar," is nearly thirty minutes in length and while offering comparative architecture, only begins truly reveling in play midway through - jovially sparring in a wry match, or in comely turnarounds that brush and ricochet.
Hopefully this galvanizing partnership is just getting off the ground.

© Clifford Allen - NI KANTU