People who have the limited perspective of pianist Matthew Shipp's musicality as being mostly in the "ecstatic jazz" vein, will be surprised at how naturally "in" some of Pastoral Composure is. On the mid-tempo burn of "Visions," Shipp lays slightly behind the beat and burrows deep in a soul-jazz vibe, while trumpeter Roy Campbell spits out melodies that suggest vintage Freddie Hubbard. And although "Gesture" is comparatively more oblique thanks to William Parker's arco bass and Gerald Cleaver's strident military rhythms, it swings with a samba groove via Shipp's left hand. Both songs have an edginess to them that's mostly due to the understandable expectation that Shipp may veer off into deconstruction bliss at any moment.
The fractured rays of aural light that people normally associate with Shipp are elegantly illuminated on the solo recital of Duke Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss." Shipp initially approaches the melody in a leisurely, yet concise, manner, but as the reading progresses the mood becomes more foreboding as Shipp slyly drops bombs of low-end tone clusters and nervy melodic turnarounds. His take on the French traditional song "Frere Jacques" doesn't quite conjure the same magic as "Prelude to a Kiss," but Campbell's wry smearing of the melody and Shipp's thunderous series of notes make a festive listen that could seem as an insider joke on European jazz.
More convincing from the left corner of the universe is the title track, where Shipp lays down his customary bed of churchy chords underneath Campbell's rhapsodic trumpet and Cleaver's textural carpet. By and large, Pastoral Composure doesn't contain any overtly ambitious statements. Like Anthony Braxton did with his 1974 In the Tradition album to quell the complaints of naysayers who view ecstatic-jazz musicians as charlatans, Shipp too may have created Pastoral Composure for similar reasons. But whether it is for sheer pleasure or propaganda, the results are ultimately rewarding.