Music Reviews

Matthew Shipp


Thirsty Ear

Many reviewers are already hastily taking the “best album released in 2003” approach, now that we’re reaching 2003’s third month, but I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you about the worst album of 2003. Matthew Shipp’s Equilibrium.

I have nothing against the guy, but I’m starting to wonder if the only reason he’s been heralded as our greatest modern jazz pianist is because nobody can hear what he’s playing underneath David S. Ware’s Ayler-like bravado. But maybe all of that praise, the magazine cover stories, the steady recording gigs are all emblematic of Shipp’s please-everyone mentality. On Equilibrium, there is no sense of expression, it is overidden with pandering Muzak wank.

One look at Shipp’s liner notes, and its pretty noticeable that the fawning press isn’t even necessary. Talking about his first release on Thirsty Ear, “I overtly explored the area where straight ahead jazz morphed into new music territory.” Bull-fucking-shit, Shipp. If you call watered-down electronics playing faux-jazz vamps “new music,” maybe you should just go buy a Ninja Tune record from eight years ago? Shipp later refers to his music as “pure jazz ambient soundscape” and “beats and DJ culture meeting free jazz,” which truly exemplifies the failures in his work, his cocky perception of himself as a master of genres.

I don’t know how to tell you about the sheer disappointment and shock that hit my face when I heard the lame, lagging funk of a track like “Cohesion” that is so absolutely bland and unchallenging that I felt finally valid in writing off the entire New York Jazz scene, once and for all, as the work of earless academic zombies. I was literally offended by the unimaginative rhythms and simple-minded melodies that make up for the 40 minutes of saccharine that this album serves up.

Despite the endless praise he’s received for experimentation on his Thirsty Ear Blue Series releases, I can’t stress enough how pedestrian these records sound. How dated this weak jazz fusion sounds, even placed against an old Squarepusher album. Take the best and most raucous emotions from free jazz, or the most harsh and perplexing moments from electronic music, and smooth it all out until it’s just a meaningless genre exercise. This is music that took out all of the adjectives.

Thirsty Ear Records:

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