There seems to have been something of a Transatlantic rift in jazz's engagement with dance musics over the past decade. Though techno, garage, house all birthed in the States, their impact on American jazz has with few exceptions been minimal. Matthew Shipp has played with Spring Heel Jack but the latter have eschewed breakbeat for their Blue Series encounters with free jazz.
Much of Equilibrium grooves enjoyably and there are some very beautiful passages: "Nebula Theory" for instance with its spooked vibes, mourning bowed bass and rattling percussion. Gerald Cleaver plays wonderful, propulsive drums. Khan Jamal's vibes weave subtly and powerfully around Shipp's melodic, stately and frequently forceful piano lines. FLAM is a relatively muted presence on synths and programming. William Parker's presence on bass is alert, guiding and complementary.
Shipp's exploration of repetition at times both mirrors the studio manipulations effected by DJ Spooky on Optometry's players and echoes Miles Davis's 70s groups and their live exploration of Teo Macero's studio cut and pastes.
However the overall impression is of an impassioned chamber jazz, more conventional than some of the musics mapped out less self-consciously in recent years by European musicians. Equilibrium shares the same earnestness as DJ Spooky's Optometry. Has Shipp listened to Nils Molvaer or Wibutee? Erik Truffaz or Bugge Wesseltoft? Rotoscope or Kirk de Giorgio? Perhaps I'm misinterpreting the intentions of the Blue Series, but in the liner notes to Equilibrium he states "We are continuing to move into the future, exploring beat elements with modern jazz".
I'd like to know what Mathew Shipp hears in or listens to in the worlds of dance musics. I'd also like to find out why he sticks with the acoustic piano in these contexts (though he played a mean Fender Rhodes live with Spring Heel Jack in London recently) which contributes to the conservatory feel. For my money to date too much respect has been accorded the jazz tradition, too little to the street. Of course, it's a precarious balancing act at the best of times with shark-infested waters on either side.
Despite reservations, it's fascinating to listen to Shipp's experiments; I prefer them anyday to the reams of conservatory jazz out there. I'm full of admiration for his courage and curiosity and I look forward to his further explorations of the matrices between musics. After all, jazz has been revivified time and again by the lifeblood of popular music... go Matthew GO!