Matthew Shipp
Matthew Shipp Quartet
(Blue Note, New York; Sept. 13, 2004)

Both as a leader and an accompanist, Matthew Shipp has proven himself one of the more adept barrier vaulters in modern jazz. He's played unabashedly "out" dates, explored more straightforward hard bop and, most recently, managed to hitch his classically tinged compositions to electronics without making it seem like a shotgun marriage.
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At this one-night Gotham stand, Shipp debuted some material from his soon-to-be-released Thirsty Ear disc "Harmony and Abyss," but in keeping with his restless nature, the pianist didn't limit himself to that disc. PerfPerf started in fractious style with a rendition of "Space Shipp," which evolved slowly from a solo piano showcase to a sinewy ensemble piece, only to culminate in a mournful tenor solo by reedman Daniel Carter.

Carter switched to flute for the more pensive "3 in 1," which brought out the more conservatory-minded aspects of Shipp's playing, namely an angular-yet-elegant tone with traces of harpsichord flavor bubbling underneath. On the surface, bassist William Parker and drummer Guillermo E. Brown conducted a virtual colloquium on rhythm as melody, pushing and pulling the tune with gymnastic dexterity.

Shipp kept a relatively low profile for the bulk of the 75-minute set, playing the odd solo -- dissonant here, fluid there -- but allowing ample opportunity for the music's low end to take hold. Loops, like the insistent "listen to me" snippet that preceded "Nu Abstract," brought an appropriately hypnoticHypnotic tinge to the proceedings, shifting shape until they collapse into a whirring vortex of sound.

Not everything was that complex. A closing foray into "Rocket Shipp," which opened with Brown laying down a gritty beat that James Brown could easily get behind, brought out Shipp's inner swing. The chugging improvisation wasn't unbridled in its giddiness, but it succeeded in its obvious intent to leave the audience smiling.

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