He’s got no kick against modern jazz

Jazz and electronic music coexist in the body of Matthew Shipp

by Keri Carlson

Since his first album “Sonic Explorations” in 1987, Matthew Shipp has persistently expanded and innovated jazz music. That’s a difficult feat in a genre that survives mainly on reissues.

While Shipp has always had obvious talent, it was unclear if he would ever be able to make a real mark in jazz history. But with his 2002 album “Nu Bop,” Shipp finally reached his stride. “Nu Bop” found Shipp’s signature Thelonious Monk-like chomps on the piano mixed with knob twiddler FLAM.

“Nu Bop” couldn’t have been titled better. Shipp took Miles Davis bebop and hammered it into a backdrop of modern classical, avant-garde and IDM (Intelligent Dance Music). This album showed off Shipp’s unique style of piano playing; he wavers from brash and rhythmic to subtle and sprinkled.

Other artists have combined jazz and electronica, but they often structure their music starting with a laptop. Shipp alone approaches this meld from a jazz perspective.

For the past several years, Shipp has worked on fine-tuning this sound with the help of his “Blue Series.” The series allows Shipp to collaborate with many diverse artists, such as drum ‘n’ bass group Spring Heel Jack and turntablist DJ Spooky.

On his latest album “Harmony and Abyss” (also a part of the “Blue Series”), Shipp returns to his regular cast of band members, featuring William Parker on bass, Gerald Cleaver on drums and FLAM with programming.

“Harmony and Abyss” is much mellower than albums such as “Nu Bop.” But Shipp and company sound more comfortable and ready to continue exploring territories not yet covered.

“Harmony and Abyss” allows the ambient tones to breathe much more than in the past. Yet strangely, this is one of Shipp’s most accessible albums for audiences not accustomed to avant-jazz. Most tracks end within four minutes. Even though the album wanders in borderless spaces, the time limits keep the compositions focused.

The most compelling song on the album is “Blood 2 the Brain.” Shipp weaves his piano and synth so they harmonize seamlessly before unraveling and heading off toward different melodies. This makes the track the most upbeat and textured on the album, but what really gives it an edge is the funky hip-hop beat that anchors the song.

“Harmony and Abyss” continues on the path Shipp set out upon on past efforts. This album, however, most clearly showcases Shipp’s vast musical influences that should draw attention not only from jazz fanatics but from all kinds of music communities.