Shipp's 'Harmony' Leads Autumn CDs
Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune
Whether by happenstance or design, the fall season's new jazz recordings show several major artists turning in some of the most accessible work of their careers. Though jazz musicians generally, and rightfully, try to pay more attention to art than commerce, one can't help wondering if the unfortunate state of jazz-industry economics hasn't at least subconsciously coaxed some artists into working a bit harder to reach a wider audience.
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Granted, for every easily approached new jazz disc you could find one -- or more -- that caters to connoisseurs rather than to the general public. Yet it's impossible to ignore the fact that significant players such as Branford Marsalis, David Sanchez, Matthew Shipp, Jean-Michel Pilc and Clark Terry, among others, are releasing recordings that will appeal to listeners unversed in jazz (as well as to those who know a great deal about it).
Considering the eloquence of the best of these recordings, the anyone-can-listen approach only can help an industry that needs as many converts as it can find.
The most stunning of the forthcoming releases by far is pianist Matthew Shipp's "Harmony & Abyss" (on Thirsty Ear). Though Shipp has been turning in genre-defying work for several years (notably on "Nu Bop" and "Sorcerer Sessions"), his beguiling synthesis of jazz, pop and electronics reaches a new high point -- and a new accessibility -- with this ingeniously conceived and brilliantly engineered disc.
More a three-dimensional sonic collage than a mere recording of tunes, "Harmony & Abyss" places the listener at the center of a vortex of ambient sound. Buoyant dance beats, lushly synthesized colors, catchy/spiky piano riffs, other-worldly chimes and peals -- an extraordinary swirl of pitch, rhythm and texture engulfs the listener. Even for skeptics, there may be no resisting the great waves of infinitely detailed acoustic and electronic sound that Shipp has orchestrated.
Yet he's not pandering here, trying to lure young listeners with superficial references to hip-hop scratching, electronic sampling and what-not. On the contrary, Shipp's remarkably protean pianism -- driven by sleek pop hooks one moment, intricate bebop lines the next -- seamlessly merges with the computer-generated tweaks, beeps and hums of electronic programmer FLAM. Remove either Shipp's piano/keyboard statements or FLAM's evocative, 21st Century sound effects, and the recording would fall apart. Put them together, then add to the mix William Parker's serenely bowed phrases on bass and Gerald Cleaver's enormous lexicon of drum beats, and you have a visionary, unabashedly populist view of jazz's future.
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