Released by Thirsty Ear, in another issue of the Blues Continuum series, is HIGH WATER, a collaborative effort between producer and composer, EL-P, and a stellar sextet which includes Gulliermo E. Brown on drums, Roy Campbell on trumpet, Daniel Carter on reeds, William Parker on bass, Matthew Shipp on piano and Steve Swell on trombone.
The entire recording seems to be geared to an evolution that culminates in the vocal of WHEN THE MOON WAS BLUE sung by Harry Keys, the jazz pianist father of El-P. The music begins with a rehearsal-like first cut, in which Matthew Shipp asks if the all the lights can be turned on so that the musicians can see. After stopping at this interruption, the music continues with the same melody, grounded with the basskeys of the piano and carried by Campbell’s muted trumpet. Thereafter, the music becomes progressively larger and, as a whole, is hauntingly exquisite in nature, although only slightly wanting in a complete polish.The latter lack takes away from what seems to be a purposeful emphasis.
Shipp hammers and pounds the piano keys and Brown jams on the bass drum and snare and cymbal and Parker snaps the thick, heavy strings of the bass; they provide the cement on which the remaining instruments perform. Each musician plays according to how El-P has sculpted the form out of which the theme will vary. And it is a theme that exists. Its power is planted in the baseness expressed in the piano, upright bass, drums and trombone, often elaborated by electronics. All of the tracks are related. They each seem to have a coincidental adherence to a certain rhythm, over which as the ever-changing sometimes dissonant flutter of the brass and reeds bounce. Groove seems to persist here, repetitively. Which is good. Because anything can happen above the groove and does: flute solos, strange electronic clusters, muted trumpet solos, key shifts, a thousand and one downbeats and ostinatos...Totally exotic and weird combinations.
When Keys sings, it is as if the listener has been twirled around into another zone of existence. Pure retrogressive longing.... The recording ends as it began with piano and muted trumpet playing the same tune with a modicum of a twist. A night cap that indicates closure.