Matthew Shipp Credit: Courtesy the Artist

Matthew Shipp can’t have had his own playing in mind when he named his latest record The Unidentifiable. With his powerful command of the grand piano’s lowest notes, his adroit manipulation of its sustain pedal, and the complex harmonies nurtured by his prodigious technique, he obtains a massive and instantly recognizable sound. The New Yorker can create extraordinary space and movement within a dense sonic field, and it’s made him an essential accompanist to saxophonists such as Ivo Perelman and David S. Ware. But while The Unidentifiable has plenty of weighty moments, it balances them with exploratory and analytical ones. On the brooding “Dark Sea Negative Change” and the more abrupt “Virgin Psych Space 2,” Shipp and the rest of his trio—bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker—lay bare the mechanics of their interactions, which rely on melodic counterpoint and rhythmic undertow to summon intrigue and tension. And the celebratory Latin groove of “Regeneration” proves that Shipp, who’s about to turn 60, is still eager to investigate new ground and make it his own. The title track actually has some pretty clear antecedents, which is hardly a given with a player as idiosyncratic as Shipp: its solemn opening and mercurial shifts of attack evoke John Coltrane’s classic quartet, and the sudden gaps in Shipp’s playing recall Thelonious Monk. Perhaps what he intends to call “unidentifiable” is the thing he heard in those masters and has achieved in his own way—the elusive spark that makes possible the lifelong pursuit of a singular but continually evolving creative voice.   v