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Matthew Shipp - Nu Bop

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Artist: Matthew Shipp

Album: Nu Bop

Label: Thirsty Ear

Review date: Mar. 31, 2002

Matthew Shipp's latest Thirsty Ear recording, Nu Bop, brings elements of electronic music into the realm of avant-garde jazz. In addition to Shipp's familiar collaborators - William Parker on bass, Guillermo E. Brown on drums, and Daniel Carter on saxophone and flute - Nu Bop also features the programming and synthesizer work of FLAM, founder of New York's pioneering Mindswerve studios. Each of the seven tracks on which FLAM appears provides a unique take on the concept of experimental jazz working within the framework of drum loops and sound manipulation. The end result is an album with mainstream appeal that does not sacrifice the edge or the artistic integrity that has come to be expected from Shipp and his associates.

The opening track, "Space Shipp," sets the tone for the entire album. It begins with a synthesized drum loop reminiscent of a Trent Reznor creation. Ten seconds later Shipp enters, hammering out a slightly dissonant chord progression that he reiterates throughout the remainder of the song. The repetition of Shipp's chord progression mirrors that of FLAM's drum loop and creates a meaningful juxtaposition of machine music and music sprung from human touch, a theme that pervades throughout Nu Bop.

Shipp's two solos on "Space Shipp" also form a meaningful contrast with one another. The first is tightly structured and appears to pay tribute to the sounds of post-bop while the second is chaotic and suggestive of the discordant sounds of 80's New Music. They highlight the continuum of jazz genres and point to the variety of sources that Shipp draws from in Nu Bop. Shipp's first solo as well as FLAM's synthesized drum loop appear again in a later track entitled "Rocket Shipp," which adds to cohesiveness of the album and raises questions concerning the difference between a human piano loop and a machine loop.

"Nu-Bop," the album's title track, also highlights with the contrast between the rigid structures of machine music and the free forms of experimental jazz. It begins with a high-pitched synthesized cry and a drum loop, over which Parker drops a gripping bass groove. Its opening moments bring to mind the minimal drum n' bass music of Photek or Roni Size and provide a setting in which Parker's bold yet unorthodox bass thrives. However, before long FLAM's programmed beats transform into the Guillermo E. Brown's thunderous drumming, and the synthesizer's cry becomes Daniel Carter's searching sax lines. Initially, the group attempts to stick to the general rhythmic patterns established by FLAM at the outset. However, as the track progresses they find ways of breaking away from this structure without lessening the song's driving power. In this manner, the opening bass riff and drum loop have become the equivalent of a melody around which the group improvises.

A counterpoint to the propulsive rhythms of "Nu-Bop" is the haunting atmosphere of "Nu Abstract." Disjointed notes from Shipp's enhanced piano rain down like meteors through a whirring sonic vortex, another of FLAM's creations. Tracks such as this one and "ZX-1," a Shipp solo, seem more closely aligned with Shipp's previous endeavors as a leader.

The gem of Nu Bop may well be "X-Ray," a duet between Parker on bass and Carter on flute. One of the few tracks that does not feature FLAM, the harmony achieved by Parker and Carter on "X-Ray" is absolutely magical. It provides a touch of serenity to an otherwise upbeat and at times chaotic album.

In many ways, Nu Bop is an extension of Shipp's work with the David S. Ware Quartet documented in their 2001 release Corridors and Parallels (AUM Fidelity) which marks the first time he played synthesizer on record. Although Shipp does not play the synthesizer on Nubop, he again experiments with electronically enhanced sounds and programming. However, whereas in Corridors and Parallels Shipp expressed himself through the synthesizer, on Nu Bop he looks for ways to express himself within and against the context of electronically programmed and synthesized settings. Not only is Nu Bop fun and highly enjoyable to listen to, it is also a testament to Shipp's relentless drive to explore new musical areas.

By Nick Sheets

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