New Orbit
Thirsty Ear THI 57095.2

As pianist Matthew Shipp's recording career goes into its second decade, he's starting to reveal hitherto concealed sides of his playing. In fact, those who only know him as a member of David S. Ware's high-energy quartet will probably be quite surprised by this session.

For rather than going hell for leather as he must with Ware, this disc and PASTORAL COMPOSURE, his earlier Thirsty Ear CD, highlight his reflective, meditative playing as well as his composing. Folks forget, after all, that Shipp has long insisted that he was influenced by Bill Evans as well as Cecil Taylor.

Not that this is one of those ballads-and-cocktail-shakers ruminations that seem to obsess most Evans' followers. Powerful bassist William Parker — who has "Orbit 3" all to himself — and subtly inventive drummer Gerald Cleaver are along to make sure no one mistakes repose for somnolence, after all. But, if his earlier Thirsty Ear quartet outing, could be heard as a modal session, than this one could easily attract the crowds that turn out for Keith Jarrett's keyboard reflections. Unlike some of Jarrett's CDs, though, there are no self-indulgent pianisms here. Since 10 tunes are packed into little more than 39 minutes, that's not surprising.

Still Shipp manages to make compositions like the title tune, "Syntax" and "Orbit 4" breathe with semi-classical flourishes. Plus he even plays what sounds like a harpsichord or a prepared piano on "Pardox", for some unusual, though anything-but-upsetting sounds.

Contributing to the overall mood is veteran brassman Wadda Leo Smith, who long ago decided that mindless swing was not the end-all of improvised music. A perfect interpreter of Shipp's compositions, listen to how he elaborates "Maze Hint", spinning it out as a muted mini-trumpet concerto, backed only by Parker's shimmering arco stylings. Then there's "U Feature" a bass-drums-trumpet opus which shows that experienced musicians can hit hard and fast without having to reference the blues or rhythmic alter every note.

Those who have followed Shipp's multi disc career will probably find even more to like in this outing. Some, whose reference point is Glenn Gould as well as Jarrett and Evans, will no doubt be impressed as well. Still others, who have an outdated view of the so-called avant-garde, may be taken in by the muted refinement here.

They should realize, though, that there's no guarantee that the pianist's next disc will resemble this one. Nor should it.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. New Orbit 2. Pardox X 3. Orbit 2 4. Chi 5. Orbit 3 6. U Feature 7. Syntax 8. Maze Hint 9. Pardox Y 10. Orbit 4

Personnel: Wadda Leo Smith (trumpet); Matthew Shipp (piano); William Parker (bass); Gerald Cleaver (drums)