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Matthew Shipp: Equilibrium

illustration of Matthew Shipp

Equilibrium is the latest installment in a career full of musical incident and event, and pianist Matthew Shipp has once again succeeded in confounding expectation by challenging established convention. The CD is Shipp’s fourth for Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series, a label that has quickly established a reputation as the most adventurous in American jazz.

Unlike the fixed stars and known horizons of much of the jazz firmament, Shipp is less interested in what jazz was than what it can become. Standing apart from the mainstream while at the same time asking searching questions of it, at 42 Shipp is not about to let middle-age lassitude compromise the values he forged as a young man when he first arrived in New York City in 1984 after studying for two years at the New England Conservatory. Joining tenor saxophonist David S. Ware’s quartet in 1989, Shipp and the band confronted the problem of extending the avant-garde’s creative impulses without surrendering to the pitfalls of excess. With Ware, Shipp found an audience beyond jazz, where alternative rockers, open to new sounds and new ideas, embraced the music without the preconceived notions of conservative jazz fans. Shipp is by no means hard to listen to, but many found him difficult listening, making lazy connections with Cecil Taylor, once a prime influence but now a distant one at best.

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