Matthew Shipp: Harmony and Abyss

Chris Toenes

Matthew Shipp

Harmony and Abyss

Label: Thirsty Ear
US Release Date: 2004-09-28
UK Release Date: Available as import

Jazz's directional changes always lead to new cross-pollination of styles; forward-thinking shifts rub off on the surrounding genres of hip-hop and electronica in ways that grow them all. In the hallowed halls of the straight jazz schools, these forays into the breach are ill advised and considered poisoning the well. From the perspective of the other disciplines involved, jazz can be an unwelcome addition to a strictly constructed format or a natural progression -- those in the techno community who frowned on acid jazz do not look forward to a repeat, while hip-hop heads are accustomed to this healthy marriage.

As curator of Thirsty Ear Records' Blue Series, pianist Matthew Shipp is nudging those boundaries, while onlookers reconsider their early dismissal of such unholy alliances to their own dismay. Shipp quickly emerged from his notoriety as a next-generation free jazz innovator, utilizing the cluster tones and dissonance of Cecil Taylor, working constantly in saxophonist David Ware's Quartet with William Parker and Susie Ibarra, and avidly seeking collaborations with peers and heavy hitter influences alike. His own multi-discipline collaborations have aligned him with the leftfield hip-hop outfit Anti-Pop Consortium, MC/producer El-P, and now, with Harmony and Abyss, breakbeat experimenter and producer FLAM (Chris Flam).

On this release, Shipp's percussive playing fits into FLAM's mixing snugly. In a track like "String Theory", with its ebbs and flows of beats dotted with circular piano tinkling, FLAM adds some reverse tape loops to underline the sense of dizzying loss of equilibrium, without going over the edge into unconsciousness. "String Theory" is mesmerizing in its ability to remain afloat, above the murky depths of so many similar escapades into this unfamiliar realm. When these seasoned musicians exist in that unspoken zone of kinetic communication, sparks kick up from the floor. William Parker and Shipp speak this language through brushstrokes of their instruments, Parker enabling Shipp by subtle, distinct, deep-throbbing tones on his bass. "Amino Acid" percolates with this give-and-take electricity. Bongo beats with samples of claps of thunder work into a frenzy of foreshadowed danger and tense emotion. The sublime miniature "Invisible Light", clocking in under two minutes, exudes a perfect ambience of warmth and security, as if a diminutive fireplace has burned down to its coals.

The blanks filled in here are easy to see on the page, but harder to scribble down to the untrained ear. Jazz idioms and reflections have been a constant in hip-hop for much of its existence. When Digable Planets used samples of Art Blakey and Rahsaan Roland Kirk alongside the Last Poets and James Brown snippets, it was not the first time the assimilation took place. De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest had made the jump, among many others, but the Planets' exuding of jazz cool started another fire among hip-hoppers to a different, internally soulful place. Electronic music grabbed pieces of sax and bass lines from jazz along the way, too, to varied levels of reception.

The coda to this engaging, shifting chess game of call and response is "Abyss", Parker's bass drones, bowed into haunting echoes like some distant whale song. At the end of this chapter of the journey by Shipp and his accomplices, the depths of the dark holes of jazz moods -- like the blues, or hot riffing on the rhythmic phrases and language of hip-hop and electronic beats by FLAM -- have been plunged, with sufficient booty to show for it.





The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.


NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.


South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.


Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.


Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.


Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.


Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.


The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.