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Matthew Shipp
Nu Bop (Thirsty Ear)

Before we get to Nu Bop, let's take a quick but instructive look at another disc that was released last year. David S. Ware turned a few heads by recording Corridors And Parallels, on which Matthew Shipp, the pianist in Ware's longstanding quartet, forsook his piano for a Korg synthesizer. To these ears, it wasn't a wholly successful venture; Shipp's facility on the instrument often sounded like an adept pianist exploring the settings on his new electronic axe for the first time, and the band as a whole failed to gel with the same magic they'd exhibited in the past. But the album sent out a signal that the leading lights of New York's free jazz scene were starting to incorporate new sounds into their ever-evolving music, which in itself was noteworthy; after all, hasn't jazz always been a continual exploration?

Enter Nu Bop. Shipp has gone back to piano. William Parker and Guillermo E. Brown, the Ware quartet's rhythm section, are on board. Daniel Carter –best known for his Ornettish, freely melodic playing with Test and Other Dimensions In Music–handles saxophone (and flute) duties. Rounding out the group is Chris Flam, who's previously worked with DJ Spooky and A Guy Called Gerald, on synths and programming. Is the word "fusion" leaping to mind? Banish it now. There's no laid-back noodling, tepid Fender Rhodes workouts, or dilution of vision. Shipp is consciously trying to forge a new synthesis here, and the results sometimes verge on the spectacular. The album starts off strong: "Space Shipp"—with which Shipp joins the venerable ranks of jazzmen who can't resist punning on their names in titles—announces the new breed with Flam's turntable/synth scrapings and Brown's up-front drumming, and Shipp hits the right blend of hard funk and free playing. On "Nu-Bop," Shipp lays out, and Parker's enormous bass is given the spotlight in the mix (who needs to plug in when your sound is as gargantuan as Parker's?); Daniel Carter's ethereal alto is relatively buried, but in a way that suits the composition, rather than calling the producers' judgment into question. "ZX-1" drops the electronics—and the rest of the band—as Shipp takes a solo turn at the piano; leaving the driving rhythms aside momentarily, he unwinds a meditative, minor-key piece. "D's Choice" (D? Daniel? Good pick, man, even if you're not on the track) is a trio meeting of Shipp, Brown and Flam. There's no flashy solo here; a jazz purist would probably describe Shipp's adherence to the melody line as mere comping. But let's leave the purists at the door, and call it for the great track that it is. On "X-Ray," Carter picks up his flute to duet with Parker; it's a rare opportunity to hear the avowedly in-the-moment Carter play a pre-composed piece. Again, there's little flash; Carter stays in the flute's middle register, dextrously spiralling within the song's parameters. "Rocket Shipp" (whose title, like "Space Shipp," gives a nod to a Sun Ra—a pioneer of electronics in jazz, and a self-proclaimed outer space visitor) mines the same funky/free vein as the leadoff track. Brown was virtually unknown before joining Ware's band. If his muscular style, with his tendency towards hard backbeats, has perhaps lowered the bar that his predeccessor (the more expansive Susie Ibarra) had set with that group, it's right at home here; he keeps the rhythm going during Shipp's hyper-articulated keyboard runs, and pumps the beat even stronger when the pianist goes back to pounding out the melody. The song ends falteringly, and there's a bit of enthusiastic studio chatter from Parker: "I'm getting into it now, man... gimme some more!" His request is granted with the next cut, "Select Mode 1," which just begs to be extended beyond its 1:23 running time, pressed onto a 12" single, and sent out to dance club DJs across the country. It's followed by "Nu Abstract," on which Brown sits out, giving way to a wedding of Flam's synth textures and Parker's arco bass, over which Shipp plucks out a gentle, uneasy melody. The album closes with "Select Mode 2," another charging track with an odd time signature. If I have any complaints at all, it's that the talents of Daniel Carter were only utilized on two of the nine cuts. But that's merely a wish for more good stuff, and what Shipp has served up here is a texturally varied, forward-looking, and rousing album.

- James Lindbloom