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Equilibrium by Matthew Shipp

In the wake of the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday, it is fitting that the new release of the Blue Series from Thirsty Ear is entitled EQUILIBRIUM. The very derivation of the word comes from the Latin meaning "equal balance". The music that Matthew Shipp has assembled into one vibrant sweeping gesture is the balancing of sets of opposing forces. Given mindful attention, these forces can either be heard or construed as conceptual.

Shipp’s opening imminent sonata phrases temper entrance into the recording. They are gentle yet strong and usher in a seemingly mainstream melody. At that point, the vibes begin and rise to become a vital part in the total body of the music. Shipp moves quickly into his signature 10 finger chordal climbs. Khan Jamal is one hot , often vocal, ticket on the vibraphones; he creates streams of ultrasonic vibrations that are captivating enough to remove the listener from a reality Zone (that is: zone with a capital "Z"). Drummer Cleaver delves full-strength into the stream; his strokes vary in color through his distinctive use of brushes and sticks; his rhythm can be heavy and driven. His playing is sometimes abstract , percussive and somewhat classical. And of course, William Parker, on bass, does not, repeat, does not let go. Whether pizzing on his instrument’s thick reverberating strings through an improv intended for all out dancing or bowing as a means to convey the breadth of the universe, Parker inimitably follows his senses to create lines that fulfill every bassist’s dream, every jazz instrumentalist’s dream, every musical dream. When the electronics kick in, they endow the backdrop to the music with that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ that lightly unifies the acoustic instruments. It is not until halfway through the recording the synth/turntable effects become prominent. In the last track the significance of the contribution of the electronics is established as an organizer of ambiance.

Matthew Shipp exercises his own invaluable directness and honesty in pulling together repetitions upon repetitions of midrange chords juxtaposed to hammered out trills and scalar ascents and descents that function in ways that are totally surprising in this recording context. He has twisted all assumptions about who he is and how he plays and thrown a curve to the listener. Although this recording reflects Shipp’s past recording history and perhaps that which is not recorded, that is its purpose. The titles of the tracks in themselves tell a story: where Matthew has been, where he is now, and where he is going.

Just as black and white, light and dark, weight and buoyancy, speed and slowness, ringing and flatness, sound and silence, and life and death can reign as opposites, so can these opposites be classified as inseparable. For without one opposite, by definition, the other would not exist. So, given their pairing, between the two opposites, a breath is taken and with that breath, their unequivocal bonding is magnified. When placed in real life, the nature of opposites is indistinguishable---when distinguishable, a healthy equilibrium no longer holds true.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Matthew Shipp
  • CD Title: Equilibrium
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2003
  • Record Label: Thirsty Ear
  • Musicians: Matthew Shipp (piano), William Parker (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums), Khan Jamal (vibes), FLAM (Synths & programming)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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