Matthew Shipp
The GoodandEvil Sessions

In contrast to the Blue Series which will also continue unto itself, the premiere recording of the Blues Series Continuum from Thirsty Ear is “The GoodandEvil Sessions”. Spearheaded once again by pianist and improviser Matthew Shipp, the CD includes in its group of instrumentalists, not only Shipp on synthesizer, but also Roy Campbell on trumpet, William Parker on bass, Alex Lodico and Josh Roseman on trombones, and electronics and extraterrestrial turntablist sounds are produced and mixed by GoodandEvil and by Miso.

The reconciliation of the title “The GoodandEvil Sessions” with the music has been a real conundrum ever since the music started coming out of my stereo speakers. An intense pulse pervades the recording and a theme is stated blatantly at the very beginning. The successive tracks supply nearly academically identifiable variations on the original theme. The story that the music relates can be heard from the outset as direct and memorable but which towards the first third of the sessions becomes ominous and veers towards dissonance and disturbance. The most unlikely instrumentation often announces sets of phrasings that in relation to what they conventionally would be associated with, i.e. trumpet, trombone and bass, is totally unexpected.

After awhile, I was so completely into the timbral groove of the unfolding and development of the theme variations, that I could not ask the questions about what the title meant. The electronics and turntable contribution to this recording are indispensable. The technological blends heartily with the acoustic. The balance rendered therein is indisputable.

At the very end of the music is a sound that resembles the quick firing of a shot gun. This brought me to the idea-- Well, here is the evil that came out of the good. Then I thought that that conclusion was too forced. Yet, the way in which the entire 45 minutes of music unwinds allows for that kind of obvious translation. I put this deduction on the back burner.

Coincidentally with letting slowly seep into my brain “The GoodandEvil Sessions”, I was reading Steve Reich’s “Writings on Music 1965-2000”. In a documented interview with Reich by Jonathan Cott about Reich’s “ The Desert Music”, a moderately scaled piece from 1984, after answering question after question regarding verbal explanation of the music, Reich proclaims and brilliantly so that he once had a vision that “light” was a metaphor for harmony and tonality. He also said that, and this is the important part: “You see, I understood that human conventions are, in a sense, the light - a kind of conveyance on which we ride, in which we live, and without which we die. And the human construct that we call our music is merely a convention-something we've all evolved together, and that rests on no final or ultimate laws. And it sails, in my mind, like a ship of light down an endlessly dark corridor, preserving itself for as long as it can. And no more and no less."

How immediately these statements by Reich fit into the understanding of “The GoodandEvil Sessions”. What Reich said just about covered my interpretation of this premiere Blues Continuum recording. Taking it even further, “The Desert Music” corresponds more than not to “The GoodandEvil Sessions”, for “The Desert Music” does not describe the desert. It is concerned with what the concept of the desert means specifically in regards to divine revelations to the Jews in their exodus from Egypt and Jesus’s struggling with temptations, the Devil and going crazy. Similarly, a constant pulsating rhythm pervades “The Desert Music” which rhythm Reich believes provides the foundation for “the feeling, the structure, and the harmony of the entire piece.”

(The deduction about the concluding sound of “The GoodandEvil Sessions” that was on the back burner came forward again but in a modified fashion: the shooting of a gun does not have a lot of warm and cozy associated with it. In a broader sense, whatever the latter signifies is not good and does tend toward an evil.)

The currency for the projection of the idea behind the mere juxtaposition of two polar extremes of GoodandEvil, which could as easily be “BlackandWhite”, is the music. Listening to the music speeds the transcendence of the dualism (though paradoxically unified in the one word-ness) indicated by the title. The music is larger than the title. And no matter what GoodandEvil means, the idea of it disappears when the music is over.

We can see the light. I hope that the light keeps shining through, door after door, discovery after discovery, recording after recording.

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