Matthew Shipp: Nu Bop

James Beaudreau

Matthew Shipp

Nu Bop

Label: Thirsty Ear
US Release Date: 2002-01-22

Matthew Shipp's latest contribution to his label's Blue Series, which he curates with a golden touch, is a merging of electronics and jazz that is a futurist's jazz fantasy made flesh and metal. Shipp is joined by frequent collaborators William Parker and Guillermo Brown on bass and drums, respectively, and the saxophone and flute of Daniel Carter. But all are joined by, and up against, Chris Flam's metallic beat programming, and it makes for some of the most palpable experimentation on a jazz record in recent years.

Shipp's playing moves like ripples, starting from a single idea, and branching out in concentric shapes. It's a way of traveling, but not the usual one in an era where the effects of Bud Powell's forward-driving single note virtuosity still hold sway. Shipp's piano produces modal blocks -- not streams -- of color, rhythmically placed in ripple patterns. His strong pulse on the more upbeat pieces serves as a bedrock layer to the syncopated skittering of the drums and machines, putting piano and bass into an anchoring position, and putting the drums and programming on top. It's like watching underwater happenings through a choppy surface.

The musicians' process: Shipp, Brown, Parker, and Carter improvise against the constant of Flam's programming, which was put down first. The programming acts as a foil for the musicians, who make it their business to accommodate and surpass the restrictions of the machine. Then there's subtle post-production work by Flam and Shipp: fading instruments in and out, some mild effects on instruments, and under and over-stated loops. But Nu Bop smartly leaves the burden of innovation to the musicians as they're in-flight. Jazz musicians are used to reacting on the fly, and the programming acts as a stimulating setting.

The gauntlet is thrown down on the first track, "Space Shipp". A seething electronic splattering of beats sets up an exotic modal theme in the piano, and the band pushes and pulls at the unmoving machine for all of the piece's pop-song length of three minutes, 20 seconds.

"Nu-Bop" begins with an effects-treated soprano saxophone call, summoning the bass into a deep groove of plucked-out asymmetrical proportions. Brown's powerhouse drums enter dramatically. This is a jazz-musician's funk, repetitive enough to support the groove, but shifting and changing like breathing. Carter takes a Shorter-like soprano solo over the alien territories, with a subtle delay-effect on his lines. The drum break shows perfect synchronization with the machine. Shipp enters at 3:50 in the low register with ominous sci-fi tidings: falling chords and a dark rumble -- a weighty echo of the bass' asymmetrical proposition. There's a return to bass and drums, the piano fades back in, and the piece ends with solo piano, Shipp sounding like no one so much as himself, and then a subtle loop of the last few chords. The instruments surge in and out of the mix like independent tides.

"ZX-1" is a solo piano interlude; a moment of reflection. Independent left and right hand exposition occasionally moves together into harmony. Shipp plays with a beautiful tone, and a great command of dynamics, and builds a satisfying and far-flung composition from a two-note motif at the center.

"D's Choice" features some shimmering programming: delicate high-pitched beats that range from the purely electronic glitch to sounds like sticks on cymbal stands. It settles in at a comfortable clip, and Shipp examines a lovely Asian-sounding melody, perfectly set in the programming context, from every possible angle. Brown's drumming is particularly inventive, coloring the piece with orchestral strokes.

"X-Ray" continues the Far Eastern mood of "D's Choice" with a flute/bass duet, again of pop-song dimensions. Carter's flute tone is deep and sonorous, and is well matched sonically to Parker's rich accompaniment.

"Rocket Shipp" begins with a bass riff, and a complex soundscape fading in around it: a futuristic sound that, by way of comparison, moves most closely to the thick atmosphere of Miles Davis' On the Corner. The drums engage fully in a tug-of-war with the beat programming, which now includes some vaguely vocal-like sounds, obscuring each other. The music from 5:17-5:45 is a direct repeat of a section of "Space Shipp" (starting around the 1:00 mark) and at 5:45, the music is looped back to 5:17. With the direct lift of previously-presented material, it suddenly becomes obvious that the spectre of Teo Macero is hanging over this recording, and Nu-Bop begins to seems like a continuation of Macero's groundbreaking work with Miles' early electric period.

"Select Mode 1" is a short and driving dance that's based on a series of looped, chopped, cut and paste piano riffs set to a cheery tambourine and drum rhythm that, by the end of the piece, sounds sinister for the juxtaposition.

"Nu Abstract" is an atmospheric piece featuring Shipp's harpsichord-like piano string plucking and some fearsome artificial sound environments made by synthesizer and bowed bass. It, too, is confined to pop song proportions, and its tight framing adds not only to its elegance, but makes it intelligible in a way that a longer exercise would not be.

The closing "Select Mode 2" is an abstracted take on the famous groove-riff of Lee Morgan's "Sidewinder", given a thoroughly contemporary reading: disjointedness, the urban jumble of sound, frequent alarms, repetition, urgency and the conspicuous absence of melody mark this as a modern creation. What saves it from being too harsh is the warmth of the touch in the musicians' hands -- even if the performances have been chopped to bits, there's no mistaking that each note is flush with personality.

Even writing as early as March, it's hard to imagine how this will not be considered one of the best releases of 2002, and a future classic. Nu Bop is a stimulating trip on the edge where man meets machine.

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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