Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Matthew Shipp - Harmony and Abyss (Thirsty Ear, 2004)

This is Matthew Shipp's most recent entry in the Blue Series he curates for the Thirsty Ear label. Once again it's a mixture of acoustic jazz and electronics with some remixing and synth programming thrown in to boot. This is pretty similar to Shipp's other entries in the series, so fans should be pleased with the effort, while there is nothing here to change the minds of the skeptical. Shipp performs on synth in addition to piano, joined by regular cohorts William Parker on bass, Gerald Cleaver on drums and remixer and electronic manipulator FLAM.

“Ion” opens with synthesized strings and piano at a medium tempo with electronic beats and then an acoustic piano break. “New ID” has a slow piano opening which gives way to heavy beats as things take off with percussive piano playing off against the electronic beats with Parker’s plucked bass adding yet another rhythm to the mix. He seems to be a little more well recorded on this disc – the acoustic bass was getting lost amongst the electronics in previous Shipp Thirsty Ear releases. “3 in 1” puts the electronics on hold for a moment with a straight piano trio piece with some subtle beats. “Virgin Complex” has a synth opening with distorted dark piano chords, bowed bass and sci fi synth. Lest things get too serious, “Galaxy 105” has funky bass and an upbeat swinging piano - very jaunty music, nice stuff but perhaps a little out of place in this album. “String Theory” blasts us back into the electronic realm with synth and electronics as FLAM takes center stage.

“Blood 2 the Brain” has piano with electronic beats which mix with live drum beats. This is an interesting well integrated track, perhaps the most successful on the record, with the synths acting as arrangements. “Invisible Light” has piano with percussion. “Abyss” leaves the realm of jazz almost entirely for soundscapes of electronic music - organ like synth with bowed bass, Parker’s work is the only grounding in jazz as the music reaches for the stars.

This may be more of an evolutionary rather than revolutionary album for Shipp – he’s consolidated his interests in acoustic and electronic music so they flow together almost seamlessly. Now it will be interesting to see what kinds of wrinkles he can throw into future releases to keep the music fresh.

Send comments to: Tim