'Antipop Consortium vs Matthew Shipp'
by Ian Simmons
[ cdreviews ]
Another instalment in Thirsty Ear's Blue Series which has teamed a variety of musicians with free jazz ensembles, usually involving Matthew Shipp, who has been overseeing the series. In this case, Shipp takes the lead in a group with vibes player Khan Jamal, bassist William Parker and drummer Guilliermo E Brown, with Daniel Carter on trumpet, for a soundclash with hip-hop trio The Antipop Consortium on what has turned out to be their final recording as a group.
Other discs in the series, particularly 'Amassed' with Spring Heel Jack, have been spectacular fusions of widely differing musical worldviews that have usually created something arrestingly new and revealed hidden depths to some surprising musicians. This disc, while still an impressive work, is, I feel, not quite so successful. Both Shipp's group and Antipop are on top form, but do not entirely achieve a happy fusion. There are tracks here which are excellent Shipp pieces, and ones which are equally good Antipop performances, but virtually none where the two sides of the equation achieve a productive balance, although they come close on Monstro City, where an antipop hip-hop beat underpins fluid Shipp piano runs which, in turn, complements a pyrotechnic rap of impressive articulacy. On tracks such as 'Staph', the tendency to anchor everything to a hip-hop beat tends to hobble Shipp's group, making them less sure and limiting their opportunity to really cut loose and innovate, whereas elsewhere in the series, on DJ Spooky's 'Optometry', the combination of hip-hop and jazz attains a much more comfortable fluidity. When Shipp and co do take the upper hand, as on 'Free Hop', it is clear that the group is capable of highly assured and stimulating work, while Antipop make any track on which they rap their own. Their powerful presence and massively articulate lyrics have never been more clear then here. It a great pity this is to be their last work together and I hope their solo work will maintain such high standards.
Given that this is billed as a contest between Shipp and Antipop, I would have to say Antipop are the winners here. They command any track on which they appear and their manipulations of Shipp's performances are subtle and effective. For all my reservations about how the two partners have gelled, however, this is still a wonderful CD, head and shoulders above pretty much anything else I have received recently. The Blue Series is shaping up to be a stunning achievement for Thirsty Ear and I look forward hugely to the next volume.