"What extraordinary originality. This delectable recording proves the vivacity and the persistence of free jazz."
Xavier Daverat, Jazz Magazine, May 1993
"Skeptics who think so-called 'free' music lacks definable theme and variations would do well to listen to titles like Afro Sonic, a gentle yet confident piece of swirling beauty, and Piano Pyramid, in which Shipp's lower register work and Parker's bass, dark as shadows, take a sparsely noted theme through rustling variations. The group is also graced by the tart beauty of Rob Brown's alto, and Whit Dickey's sensitive drumming. Silkheart and Shipp should be proud."
Reuben Jackson, Jazz Times, April 1993
There is a constant feeling of "tension and release". The events within this ensemble piece deal with obsession (i.e. search). The music reflects upon these events which are in themselves one event that is constantly rearranging itself. Some of these concepts come from the composer's deep involvement with mysticism.
To achieve the type of quantum-poetic landscape that Shipp was seeking required other influences besides those cited above. One being the most adventurous of Herbie Hancock's electronic endeavors, though Shipp himself does not use electronics in any way.
Another is Coltrane's concept of Cosmic Music, without trying to imitate or duplicate Coltrane's sound. And still another is the Miles Davis Quintet of Shorter – Hancock – Williams – Carter. Specifically, Nefertiti, where the postbop sound is always present but remains conspicuously below the surface and is used as a constant manipulative force upon the top layers of the music.
Does this piece swing? Shipp replies with a definite "YES"... But it swings with a freely improvised manipulation of the language. Did the avant-garde of the sixties influence this music? Again the answer is "YES". But according to Shipp, his music and its structure is light years away. Though it ventures into areas not touched upon by most musicans of that era, it sometimes employs that period as a backdrop to further explore the medium's possibilities. He further states that this is not meant to negate their accomplishments nor to enhance his own, but he feels that overall his music is more multi-dimensional, as one might well gather from this recording.
Two painterly influences upon Shipp's work are: Jackson Pollock for his lyricism, space, organic form and body; and Mark Rothko for his chromatic color fields and religious brightness. Points absorbs the darkness with light, but does not consume it. It never allows one attribute to become so important as to outweigh another.
Is this music more Intellectual than Emotional? Shipp states that, "It takes a lot of Emotions to be Intellectual", though one must sometimes exhibit what might be interpreted as detachment."
What is the role of the conductor here?
"TIMING". Shipp goes onto explain that the piece was graphed out according to the language of each individual player (at the very least, distilled aspects of their playing) and then handed back to them on these graphs with each event having a specific numerical value. He conducted from the piano and had worked the conducting out in advance in the form of a kinetic grid which included and indexed the number of events, thus leading to the configuration of instruments coming together to create a musical force.
The piano orchestrally feeds the soloists material as in Ellington and Cecil Taylor, and also sets up moods for each section within the landscape. The overall effect is an intense foray into a dark world of myth and legend that is at once majesterial, decadent, and aboriginal.
Points 1 and 2 are stories compiled and passed down through time. Distorted, eerie, hauntingly beautiful and brilliant tellings of logic, truth and illogicality. They are a part of, and an examination of, the Legend of LIFE and the LIFEforce itself. We are continually shown glimpses of what lies ahead but are never presented with any conclusive data. We are never told whether we will learn any more than we knew when we began out journey. We are hearing stories filled with lyrical fire, told at night. We are never made to feel safe, never given a moment's ease or a hint of reward, even at the music's most relaxed moments.
The players fill the landscape, but never crowd it or each other. Like all great tales this piece tempts us with reality while weaving a web of fabrication. Each long section is divided into smaller passages. Beginnings with no endings. Rob Brown's alto suddenly and almost imperceptibly announcing its presence, quickly building to short shrill calls, then just as suddenly fading into the thinness of a moon in the morning sky. Endings with no beginnings. Shipp's sudden shifts from bluesy to brooding to classically elegant, all hung like strips of short-circuiting lights.
All the pieces, like the puzzle itself, fade into non-conclusions yet give us an overall feeling of shaky fulfillment. All form a network that, in the end, leaves the listener content to be at home listening while infusing him/her with a deep sense of wanderlust.
Shipp has incorporated an exoticism into his writing that is a perfect blend of African, African-American and European melody and feeling. His flourishes hint at Chopin. His singular blows to the ivories, particularly in the lower register (one of Shipp's favorite places to be), are like a tribal-drum laying the foundation.
The mood of the piece is the set in an Ellingtonian/Stravinsky-esque manner. Parker and Dickey create an intimate and often grating mixture of spatial swimming. Parker's bowing is magnificent throughout. The musicians turn round each other like hunters before the hunt, locked in the deliberate steps of a ritualistic dance. They rise and fall together and separately, in series upon series of never-ending cliffhangers.
This quartet is a fiercely integrated unit. There is a mutual give and take. The whole is equal to its parts. The soaring upward. The diving downward. The purpose and sincerity toward to the music is shared by all and is unparalleled by most working groups today. It brings to mind the tightness and precision of historic groups led by Coltrane, Ayler, Miles Davis, and Brubeck. The moods swing from the monastery to the madhouse within infinitesimal time-frames. We are led into a fathomless dark field of spectrum and spectres by harsh pleas and seductive whispers. The legend and search, like space and time, continue. The soul of the godhead is pierced. The unattainable goal is to share its secrets. To reach the light within, while remaining insulated by this deep camaraderie.
There is a new drive here. BOP, BLUES, BACH, and BEOWULF.
Jazz as an art form possesses limitless possibilities. Only too often, however, musicians create artificial boundaries within that limitlessness due to constraining technical facility, lack of musical understanding or awareness, or simply to fit more comfortably into what is considered to be the commercial mainstream.
Aside from a few notable exceptions, jazz has been trapped within these man-made walls of convention, almost completely devoid of experimentation. This music and the performers of the Matthew Shipp Quartet, have, on the other hand, pushed back another fold within that infinite space.
For Matthew Shipp, age 29, this endeavor denotes a hallmark in music and has been a satisfying extension of his thought. It is now time for you, the listener, to partake in this satisfaction.
The other pieces on this date are as follows:
Afro-Sonic: written with the primary purpose of augmenting African rhythm and showcasing the polyrhythmic improvising power of William Parker. It was inspired by Randy Weston and utilizes the repetitive thematic pattern of a talking drum as its backbone. A frenzied tapestry is woven through a fugue-like underpinning. It is the wild awakenings of night as both night and day intertwine and become one for an instant. Of major import to Shipp at this point in his career is the incorporation and extension of the structures of African music within the jazz ensemble.
Piano Pyramid: this piece Shipp indicates is to present the trio in a true tradition as "best exemplified by Bud Powell". It is strong and solid. Each layer is cemented by Dickey's brilliant brushwork and each brick carefully placed by Shipp and Parker.
About the musicians on this date:
Wiliam Parker is the veteran of the group and one of the foremost upright bassists in the world today. He is a fine leader and composer in his own right and has been the bassist in the Cecil Taylor Unit for ten years. Some recent recordings which feature him on this label alone, include Other Dimensions to Music (Silkheart 120), Breath Rhyme (Silkheart 122) which is Rob Brown's masterful trio date, and David S. Ware's trio (Silkheart 113) and quartet (Silkheart 127, 128) sessions. Parker's playing on this recording is exemplary.
Rob Brown has enjoyed a long musical association with Shipp. His playing maintains a lyrical sweetness, despite its overwhelming thrust and intensity. It always exhibits an exhilarating tension along with an unswerving beauty and dryness. At age 28, Brown carries with him a tradition that few dare venture into.
Whit Dickey, age 36. This, Dickey's first recording, proves a major breakthrough. It gives us back the security of knowing that drummers can speak and listen at the same time, never overpowering the other players, but always being heard. He bought his first drum kit in 1976 and later, after hearing Elvin Jones and Sunny Murray vowed to be a modern jazz drummer. Dickey's playing, like his own assessment of this music, is "loose, swinging and alive, yet allusive and full of mind-jolting surprises". He possesses the ability to weave two distinct yet complimentary rhythms together, within a given time signature. Dickey is a major new voice.
1. Points Number Two 20:45
2. Afro Sonic 05:40
3. Piano Pyramid 10:09
4. Points Number One 34:24
Matthew Shipp piano / conductor
Rob Brown alto saxophone
William Parker bass
Whit Dickey drums