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Matthew Shipp: Nu Bop

Whether it’s through his hand-scrawled notes to music editors proclaiming his own greatness, or by issuing soon-self-ignored declarations about not recording any more albums, pianist Matthew Shipp knows how to generate press. Journalists also give him ink, however, because he is one of the most accessible and entertaining avant-jazzers out there, capable of tackling various genres-trad, free, chamber-and stamping the music as his offbeat own. Some might say that stamp occurs because Shipp’s heavy-handed style doesn’t allow him to play any differently than what he knows, whatever the music style; though maybe it’s that he brings the genres to his playing, rather than letting the genres dictate his style.

Shipp’s last “Blue Series” album-the sub-label he artistic directs for Thirsty Ear-was the beautiful, darkly meditative song-cycle New Orbit. On his last album with David S. Ware, this past fall’s Corridors & Parallels (AUM Fidelity), he played synthesizer for the first time on CD, completely changing the sound of the already highly distinctive quartet. On Nu Bop Shipp applies his acoustic-piano-playing hands to DJ culture, adding the production and programming of electronica artist Chris Flam along with his familiar rhythm partners, bassist William Parker and drummer Guillermo E. Brown; reedist Daniel Carter also appears on a few tracks. Nu Bop is a hit-and-miss affair, but one so filled with promise that the CD still succeeds as a whole even if some of its parts are weak.

The successes include “Space Shipp,” “Nu Bop,” “Rocket Shipp” and “Select Mode 1,” which are all heavy with the thudding, deep and hyper sounds of Brown’s drums, Parker’s avant-funk bass, Shipp’s chunky piano playing and the Flam’s subtle electronic tweaks. Carter also appears on “Nu Bop,” belting out sax solos that sound completely down with the band’s grooves. These songs aren’t hip-hop or electronica at their cores; they are left-field jazz songs that borrow elements from those mostly preprogrammed genres-grooves and ambient textures primarily-that are then turned inside out, busied up and extended into real-time group interaction.

The problems occur on Nu Bop when that improvisation is forced into the background, and the grooves and harmonic patterns are locked in rather than blasted away. “D’s Choice” is hip-hop colored with Far East scales, though Shipp sounds less sure here, letting the melody’s short piano phrases ring and decay rather than continually flow into new harmonic realms. On “Select Mode 2” Shipp also plays repetitive phrases endemic to most hip-hop and electronica, but the value of live improv is that the musician isn’t confined by preprogrammed harmonic patterns that the likely nonmusician DJ or audio-collagist is often a prisoner to.

Shipp also investigates the ambient, or illbient, side of electronica-or maybe it’s just chamber jazz-on three tracks: the ruminative solo piece “ZX-1”; “Nu Abstract,” his duet with Parker, which drifts on piano plinks, arco bass and some subtle electronic effects; and “X-Ray,” which features flutist Carter and Parker in a sublime duet.

I don’t think it’s ego alone that led Shipp to call this CD Nu Bop. He’s on to something new and exciting here; maybe next time he’ll achieve his goals in their entirety.

Originally Published