Matthew Shipp One

[Thirsty Ear; 2006]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: jazz, avant-garde jazz
Others: Cecil Taylor, Andrew Hill, Thelonious Monk

We only hear two hands playing an acoustic piano on One, and I for one am thankful for it. Thirsty Ear's Blue Series has seen Shipp – its flagship artist – do as much to sully progressive jazz's name as salvage it. In arguing for jazz's vitality and relevance in the contemporary musical climate and positing the avant-garde as the theatre in which jazz appears most potent at present, Shipp has often placed his stock in the same tactic as jazz musicians who fought for commercial viability during album rock's late '60s/'70s heyday: fusion. From the onset of the '00s, Shipp has received a great deal of attention from the mainstream music press for his collaborations with hip-hop beatmakers like Flam and The Anti-Pop Consortium. His critics have frequently been unkind, however, asserting that Shipp's genre mish-mashes were half-baked, tokenistic, and even standoffish – after all, Anti-Pop and Flam don't exactly craft the warmest, most immediate rhythms in the first place. Moreover, many in the press have pointed out that Shipp and Thirsty Ear owner Peter Gordon's belief that avant-garde jazz needs "saving" or "validating" is at best a shaky presupposition.

The Matthew Shipp we encounter on One is in many ways the Shipp we came to love in the '90s – a wildly imaginative firebrand who also possesses a strong enough sense of architecture to appeal to a wide cross-section of listeners. Angular, percussive stabs and disarming elisions course through these three-to-four minute pieces, but Shipp never spirals off into the cacophony of 2004's Harmony and Abyss. The effect is an elegant, contemplative, minor-key outing that still sweats, jars, and thrills.

Without the burden of having to prove his music's merit to an imaginary crowd of tongue-wagging purists, Shipp achieves a more subtle, truer kind of fusion. One is a space in which Bill Evans' impressionism and Cecil Taylor's effluvious mindfucks can coexist and disintegrate together, as Shipp leaves jazz piano behind as seamlessly as he surveys its history, readily launching into cerebral passages that owe more to contemporary chamber music than jazz or blues traditions. Here's hoping this release marks the beginning of a more tempered sense of ambition for Shipp.

1. Arc
2. Patmos
3. Gamma Ray
4. Milky Way
5. Blue in Orion
6. Electro Magnetism
7. The Encounter
8. The Rose Is a Rose
10. Abyss Code
11. Zero
12. Module

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