Here's a twist that's full-on bent: Matthew Shipp making funky avant-garde jazz. It's true that, like Sun Ra on his Lanquidity album in the late '70s, Shipp has decided to add programming and synths to his mix for this disc, to at least walk a tightrope between improvisational art and the music of the street. For any of you groaning as you read this, give it up -- this disc is one of Shipp's very best and one of the first really new things to come across on the American jazz front in over a decade. The band is comprised of Shipp on piano, William Parker on contrabass, Daniel Carter replacing David S. Ware on saxophone and flute, Guillermo Brown on drums, and FLAM on synths and programming. Shipp's methodology is one of shifting rhythmic hypnosis and modal inquiry along scaled intervals and striated harmonic pathways that lead through the middle registers of both the saxophone and the piano. "X-Ray" is a keen example of how Shipp employs an ostinato line that changes itself ever so slightly in each chorus, is treated by FLAM with tweaked programming moves that underscore the rhythmic line, and allows Parker to roll around the changes between Carter and Shipp. In other places, such as on "Space Shipp," which opens the album, the funky line sets the pace for a six-chord thematic statement by Shipp. Parker lays in the cut with Brown, allowing the funk and roll to slip dramatically into a hypnotic groove that flows into Shipp's solo. Rather than a flurry of middle- and upper-register notes and chords, Shipp concentrates on establishing intervallic patterns that dig deeper into the thematic material and "deepen the funk," if you will, by modalizing its context. The disc closes with "Select Mode 2," an angular off-minor modal move with interplay and polyrhythmic accents by FLAM and Brown over a 5/8 samba figure as Shipp and Parker close ranks with the extensions of line and syntax in repetitive phrases that revolve around the rhythmic construct and move beyond it without leaving the groove. This is truly a new way of approaching jazz, a new way of hearing the intricacies of rhythmic counterpoint and textured harmonics that syncopate the entire methodology of composition and improvisation into a holistic view of the music as pulse and force. Shipp has clearly outdone himself this time, and the Blue Series that he coordinates on Thirsty Ear continues to be one of the bravest and most exciting series of recordings in jazz today.
Nu Bop Review
by Thom Jurek