Music

Matthew Shipp Trio: The Multiplication Table

High drama, stoked by tension and channeled through unpredictable shifts in course, is ultimately what makes this music most compelling.


Matthew Shipp Trio

The Multiplication Table

Label: HatOLOGY
US Release Date: 2008-06-30
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Matthew Shipp formally announced his early retirement from recording about a decade ago, at the age of 38, just over ten years after he first appeared on wax. During that period, the pianist had racked up around 15 recordings and established himself as an outspoken, idiosyncratic player with a dark, percussive attack. In attempting to describe his style, the press regularly resorted to knee-jerk references to free jazz pianist Cecil Taylor, mostly because of that signature pounce. But while both are often atonal, assertive players, Shipp is far less prone to Taylor's circuitous, hyper-intellectualized meandering, and much more focused on visceral movement around a primal groove.

In this sense, he's the perfect partner for bassist William Parker, who's been at his side for most of his career, and outer-bound tenor saxophonist David S. Ware, whose massive-sounding quartet was solidly anchored by those two players for its entire productive existence. In 1997, Shipp recorded The Multiplication Table, a crisp and unpredictable trio date with Parker and Susie Ibarra, the Ware Quartet's drummer at the time. The hour-long set reflects the intuitive and open-ended communication these three players shared. It harkens back to his two classic, powerful early masterpieces, Circular Temple (1990) and Critical Mass (1995), but takes a notable detour by adding an odd twist on three jazz standards.

Shipp's retirement ended shortly after it began, because he reached a deal with the indie Thirsty Ear label to serve as the A&R man, or "curator", for its then-new Blue Series. (All cynicism aside, Shipp has always been savvy with his career.) Since 1999, he has made several recordings for the Blue Series as a leader and a sideman, including the recent Piano Vortex, an unconventional trio set not unlike this one. He has also recruited a variety of mostly New York-based musicians to lay down free jazz, electronic, nu-jazz, hip-hop, metal, spoken word, and other hybrids. The quality of the imprint's output has been mixed, though not without some memorable high points from off the beaten path. Shipp's own material for Thirsty Ear has mostly fallen below his earlier standards, generally sounding less dense, less intense (read: more user-friendly), and less connected with that raw, earthly primal groove. His live performances, in contrast, have often showcased his trademark lightning quickness and thunderous crashes.

That history makes this fresh reissue of The Multiplication Table all the most interesting and poignant in retrospect. At the core of the record are three jazz standards which are familiar enough to be recognized, at least in parts, yet deconstructed far beyond any normal improvisation upon the changes. Up first is "Autumn Leaves", a six-decade-old piece by Joseph Kosma which has been played and sung to death (usually in a sickeningly sweet fashion) by jazz and cabaret musicians. The trio takes the piece apart quickly and thoroughly, infusing it with the characteristic dynamic edginess that pervades the rest of the album. Shipp casts "Autumn Leaves" in a restless, gothic mood, retaining its core sense of melancholy, but pounding out irregular chords and rapid-fire lines to punctuate phrases and introduce tension. A head-on collision of nostalgia and iconoclasm surfaces here, and later on through regular juxtapositions of swing and odd rhythms, riff-like patterns, and wild stabs in the air. From the start, Ibarra peppers the piece with rapid-fire snare and cymbal hits, shortly leading or trailing Shipp's own changes in momentum as often as she matches them, blurring the boundaries a bit as time marches on. Parker's muscular bounce helps pace and ground the flow; his detours into the upper range of the instrument provide a harmonic and melodic counterweight to Shipp's lines; and when he picks up the bow, he rides eerily, birdlike, atop them.

A more subdued atmosphere emerges at the start of Ellington's "The 'C' Jam Blues", where Shipp plays more with syncopation and reduced, classical-sounding harmonies. As the 13-minute piece proceeds, Shipp's stabbing, percussive attack pokes holes in the bluesy melody. By the time Parker and Ibarra enter at the six-minute mark, the pianist has ramped things up and everyone's well into a feeding frenzy. Shipp's forward, rhythmic riffing here and elsewhere allow him and Ibarra to trade their traditional roles -- freeing her up to focus on energy, texture, and color, rather than timekeeping per se.

The five originals on the record are similarly raw and engaging. Shipp's partners match and counter his shifty, insistent tension, making the intermittent (and usually brief) collective moments of release all the more dramatic. That high drama, stoked by tension and channeled through unpredictable shifts in course, is ultimately what makes the music most compelling. It's large and life-like, not lost in some twist of the wrist, and it draws you in -- because it's worth sticking around to see where the story goes.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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