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Published: 2003/06/26
by Jeremy Welsh

Equilibrium – Matthew Shipp

Thirsty Ear 57127

"Ultimately, the goal of this album is to take your mind on a trip."

Or so says Matthew Shipp, describing the goals of Equilibrium, his new
release, setting the listener up for jazz-inspired travels.
Equilibrium is the fourth release in Thirsty Ear's Blue Series — a
series of which Shipp is the artistic director. Shipp views
Equilibrium as a synthesis of the previous three installments, each
of which explored how traditional jazz responded to and adapted to modern
pathways (ambience, DJs, beats, and the like). Shipp has proven to be an
accomplished tour guide – he describes himself as a "classical avant-garde
player." It is Shipp's dedication to the traditional that keeps the listener
interested — the songs do not wander aimlessly. He provides the listener
with just enough familiar that we stay interested in his journey.

Shipp invited four artists to join him for Equilibrium – his
long-time collaborator William Parker on bass, Gerald Cleaver on drums, Khan
Jamal on vibes, and FLAM on synths and programming. While the vision for
jazz projects similar to the Blue Series can often times become clouded by
beats and programming, Shipp is successful in keeping true to his goal.
Shipp's background in traditional jazz and classical piano keeps the concept
clear. Shipp is the clear leader of the group, and while he allows the other
musicians to stray from the path, they never lose sight of the concept.

The album begins slowly, with Shipp lazily wandering through "Equilibrium,"
taking his time in finding a direction. Cleaver's brush work and Jamal's
active vibes add some color as they tag along for the ride. It quickly takes
off, though, with the fittingly titled "Vamp To Vibe." Shipp dominates in
setting the path for this song laying out the bass line with his left hand
— a definite vamp feeling. This deep groove allows for Jamal to take over
the lead, layering vibes over the top of the rhythm. The album then
continues with this pattern of more paced songs alternating with up-tempo
pieces. "Nebula Theory" is an airy piece highlighted by Parker's bow work on
the upright bass; the final track, "Nu Matrix," has a similar feeling. The
most successful song on the album is "Cohesion" — like "Vamp To Vibe",
aptly titled. Much like with "Vamp To Vibe," Shipp starts off by setting the
rhythm for the piece – but then allows himself to explore as he clearly
takes the lead. Even the programming and beats of FLAM can not over power
the traditional-sounding melody that Shipp pushes through.

While this album takes the listener's mind on a trip, as Shipp had hoped
for, it certainly is not a tiresome journey. The nine tracks offer brief
glimpses into the future of jazz. One seemingly walks a path, flowing from
the familiar to the unknown with Shipp never letting the listener stray too
far. He just offers glimpses of what jazz can become, never letting us
forget about the importance of a foundation, of building upon the past. One
should not come to this album expecting a simple groove record, or a
beat-dominated "acid jazz" release. Rather, you need to be prepared for a
subtle and complete album crafted by one of jazz's most skilled and studied
young talents.

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