Thursday, February 02, 2006

Black History Month: Harmony and Abyss

Black History Month is underway at HurdAudio. Which calls for a celebration and focus upon a significant body of music. Tonight I'm visiting a relatively new acquisition that has caught my ear in a big way these past few weeks: Harmony and Abyss by pianist Matthew Shipp - recorded in 2004.

Kicking off with a noodling electric piano line, "Ion" launches into a mesmerizing, groove-heavy soundscape that seamlessly melds electronic and acoustic worlds with hip hop and avant jazz. The balance between elements both ugly and sublime is irresistible. The tension between electronica manipulations slapped against live piano, acoustic bass and drums is tightly drawn. This one is rich with detail for the attentive ear to pick out.

"Galaxy 105" is a particularly fascinating track that calls elements of Sun Ra to mind as Shipp unleashes some extended improvised textures on the piano over a solid backdrop from William Parker on bass and Gerald Cleaver's excellent drum work as the electronic elements of this recording recede to reveal just how hard these guys swing both with and without the other-worldly textures and manipulations of FLAM. "String Theory" works the texture back into the soundscapes of the abyss by relaxing the rhythmic propulsion in favor of drawn out timbres that expose another angle on the same creative impulse. Then "Blood 2 the Brain" draws the tight grooves back into the soundscape and sweep back into the force and flow that dominates this recording. These three tracks form a brilliant sequence in the middle of this listening experience.

"Invisible Light" is a quick burst of acoustic improvised activity that illuminates just how aggressively these improvisers can emulate electronic manipulation. It's a short, sweet gem late in this one. And in many ways summarizes both the energy and aesthetic space of this work as a whole.

The variations in texture and sonic sheen keep this disc solidly engaging from start to end. A lot of groove-oriented music tends to fall into an "abyss" of same-ness that keep the feet moving at the expense of wearing the ear and attention span down. This one has something for the body and the mind.

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