Nu Bop
Thirsty Ear THI 57114.2

NU BOP certainly gives pianist Matthew Shipp the forum with which to explore his inner Herbie Hancock. The question is why?

No one is saying that Shipp — who has had to put up with enough unwarranted Cecil Taylor comparisons during his career as a free jazzer — has to stick to a certain style. He’s certainly shown his versatility with standard bass-and-drums trio projects, string-centred groups and work with saxophonists like Rob Brown, Roscoe Mitchell and David S. Ware. Plus the music on this disc is more than standard jazz-tinged electronica.

But why suddenly have such distinctive stylists as monster bassist William Parker and multi-reedist Daniel Carter been shoved into groove-based tunes and subordinated to the synthesizers and programming of FLAM (Chris Flam)? Consciously or not, as well, the pianist appears to be limiting himself to a fixed number of notes and tones throughout. This session’s executive producer says observing the session was like “witnessing a 21st century Ramsey Lewis at work.” Does Shipp really yearn to be part of “The In Crowd”? Certainly the sound may be “nu bop”, but that’s the only kind of “bop” it is.

In truth, the only musician who seems most at ease on this session is drummer Guillermo E. Brown, who is part of Ware’s band with Shipp and Parker. Often though, his playing turns overbearing and takes on the professional gloss of a so-called urban music studio percussionist like Bill Summers or Ndugu. There are times, in fact, when Shipp introduces some lighter, more contemporary free jazz clusters that are nearly buried under the constant bang-bang-bang from Brown.

“ZX-1” and “X-Ray” appear to be the only respite from this relentless big beat collection of finger snappers and themes that seem to have escaped from Gen X cop shows. On the first, the pianist’s notes turn uncharacteristically angular and Monkish in this unhurried tune, which might upset the jam band types. An acoustic instrument is also definitely featured here unlike some other tracks where (over) amplification turns the acoustic piano into something that could be an electric harpsichord.

“X-Ray” is also a potential beats-per-minute turn off as Carter’s deep toned flute and Parker’s rock hard acoustic bass leisurely explore the tune — or at least with the leisure they have in slightly less than 3½ minute.

Perhaps the most instructive track is the beat-heavy “Rocket Shipp,” which is also the longest. A real foot tapper, featuring more than six minutes of a repetitive bass pattern, simple percussion shuffles and recurring piano fills, the music finally dissolves at the end, and following an upfront bass run, there’s a snatch of dialogue from someone — probably Parker. “Give me some more,” he says. “It took a minute for my brain to go dead, but once that happened I was in it”.

While the raucous laughter following the statement indicates that he was just joking around, it’s hard to imagine that statement on any other disc involving Parker, Carter or Shipp.

For a CD by groove-based, pop-oriented jam band jazz, NU BOP is a superior product and it would be rated even higher if it came from an unknown. But Shipp has proven in the past that he’s capable of so much more, that a patina of disappointment overlays the praise. Keep experimenting in other ways, Matthew. There’s still a lot more you can do.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Space Shipp 2. Nu Bop 3. ZX-1 4. D’s Choice 5. X-Ray 6. Rocket Shipp 7. Select Mode 1 8. Nu Abstract 9. Select Mode 2

Personnel: Daniel Carter (alto saxophone, flute); Matthew Shipp (piano); William Parker (bass); Guillermo E. Brown (drums); FLAM [Chris Flam] (synthesizers and programming)