Matthew Shipp
Harmony & Abyss
Mark Saleski ,

Odd or unrelated juxtapositions of non-musical objects:
--a luminous strand of morning glories running up the trellis in front of the collapsing and unkempt country house
--the homeless man sleeping on a grate around the corner from a fancy restaurant
--a colorful and inspiring abstract painting, viewed the day you've been informed your spouse is leaving you
--an old sofa abandoned high atop a hill adjacent to an interstate highway

For some reason, I find pairings such as these very thought-provoking. In my mind, the 'opposites' seem to heighten brain activity. It's as though my brain is jump-started into action because the question appears: "How did that happen?"

This phenomenon extends into the realm of music as well. The low, growling, woody tones of a string bass can tell its own singular story. But, add a simple counterpoint, say, the occasional scrape of a wire brush on a Chinaboy cymbal...well, now the the musical possibilities seem limitless. Now I'm really listening!

In the case of jazz pianist Matthew Shipp's latest release, Harmony & Abyss, the jazz trio music (piano, bass & drums) is texturized by the electronics of Chris Flam, who is listed as providing: "slicing, dicing, synths and programming". Yes, slice & dice he does. This is not jazz run through a blender though. In many cases little synthy blurpies pop out of nowhere, providing texture to the goings on ("New ID", "Virgin Complex".) On other 'tunes', a more ambient flavor dominates. "String Theory" sounds like a jazz band playing a bar scene in a David Lynch movie with its shifting sound palette and sinister industrial rhythmic underpinnings. The title (and closing) track revisits this foggy ambiance as well with the bowed bass stating a lone theme while being slowly wrapped in Flam's web. Great stuff.
...available at

What with all of this talk of electronics, it shouldn't be forgotten that jazz is still the guiding light for Shipp's group. They manage to avoid coldness (one of the pitfalls of some electro-acoustic musics) while serving a greater good: they swing like you wouldn't believe. Check out "Galaxy 105", where William Parker (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums) start off celebrating a killin' walking ba

ssline before Shipp comes in on piano. This ain't no foolin' around! One more odd combination of objects: Harmony...Abyss.

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