On first glance, this is a head scratcher: a "greatest-hits" record from one of jazz's most provocative envelope pushers as a composer, soloist, and bandleader. This is an arguably chosen "best-of" from Thirsty Ear, the label Matthew Shipp has recorded for and worked with since 2000 -- he also curates their Blue Series, which showcases his and other artist's recordings. There are a dozen tracks chosen from 11 albums, and they represent a wide swath of Shipp's musical universe, but by no means all of it. He regularly recorded for a host of labels before his association with Thirsty Ear, and cut sides for many others during his tenure there. Among the tracks here are two very different solo tunes -- the dense and delicious title cut from 2010's "4D" and the moodier, more modern composition aspect of his sound on "Module" from 2005's One. These are compelling, but Shipp's solo piano work is best heard in large doses. More interesting is listening to "New ID," off 2004's Harmony and Abyss; Shipp was messing around with funky electronic structures as part of his avant jazz aesthetic long before it was fashionable to do so. This cut, played by Shipp, bassist William Parker, and drummer Gerald Cleaver with post-electronic production by Flam, dates exceptionally well and pre-dates the club jazz phenomenon by four years. Another dose can be heard on "Cohesion" from 2005's Equilibrium, which includes Khan Jamal on vibes. The title cut from 2001's New Orbit is a sparse, Spanish-tinged "song" with Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet joining Shipp, Parker, and Cleaver. The set closes with three piano trio pieces highlighting various experiments with the form, "Key Swing," which employs Thelonious Monk's and the pianist's notions of extended harmony and combines them with Horace Silver's funky blues phrasing. The closer is the 16-minute live version of "Circular Temple #1," where Shipp explores space, harmonic architecture, and the physicality of the piano itself in an improvised ensemble setting. Greatest Hits is a welcome introduction to and a fine recollection of some of the places Shipp has been, yet it's only a small glance at the massive terrain on his soundworld map.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek