Matthew Shipp

Harmony and Abyss

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When pianist and composer Matthew Shipp embraced electronic keyboards and sampling, he made the decision to follow the path the music cut for him, even if it led away from jazz. The result of this journey has been richly and rewardingly detailed on his own albums for Thirsty Ear in the Blue series and those of his collaborators. On Harmony and Abyss, Shipp moves even further afield into repetitive melodic and harmonic structures that have more in common with vanguard song forms than they do jazz or free improvisation. None of the pieces here is over six and a half minutes and the majority of them are in the four-minute range. Here, melodic and rhythmic ideas are stated as harmonic and chromatic concepts, endlessly repeated and mutated until they change shape and focal points. The result is fascinating and compelling, but there is no longer any resemblance to jazz. If anything, these pieces feel more like vanguard classical pieces viewed through an electronic prism, even if the piano is their starting point. Bassist William Parker, drummer Gerald Cleaver, and sampling slice-and-dice whiz FLAM follow Shipp's lead, taking him through twists and turns that end in increasingly strange and often beautiful places. This is a challenging record, one that does not easily or readily give up its secrets. But its rewards more than make up for the effort. Shipp is going his own way here into the rabbit hole; listeners would be well advised to track him because where he's going, no one has gone before.

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