Vs. has a most interesting aim: a direct collision between hip-hoppers Antipop Consortium and free jazzer Matthew Shipp. We've seen beats applied to jazz records, various forms of studio manipulation, and the application of rhythmic vocals alongside improvisation. So what is new here? The straightforward collision, essentially. Sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn't. Its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness: raw accessibility.
A bit of background. Jazz listeners, who are more likely to appreciate the continuum of improvisation, may not be as familiar with modern urban styles. Hip-hop and rap feature very distinct approaches. While rap is all about swagger and bravado, hip-hop has tended toward more of an inclusive, positive tone of awareness.
In the present day, hip-hop has seen its greatest advancement in the hands of inventive musicians who have broken open rigid beats, applied electronic manipulation, and expanded its lyrical scope. The Antipop Consortium has made great strides in all three respects, which renders them a prime target for collaboration with Shipp's crew of New York outside/in modern jazz players.
Pianist Matthew Shipp, who has doggedly pursued similar electronic collaborations through his relationship with Thirsty Ear, hits hip-hop from a variety of angles here. An upbeat contemporary sound launches the infectious "Staph," Shipp and his quintet laying down grooves that remain well-rooted in the jazz tradition. Bassist William Parker, in particular, nurses an organic flavor. But as the beats pile up and the raps set in, it's clear who has subordinated whom in the Vs. battle. The battle is over. Antipop on top till the end. The interest is gone.
On "svp," a dreamy mood cycles round and round, propelled by Shipp's piano and Khan Jamal's vibes. But overproduction looms heavy, locking up all the loose joints and evaporating the spontaneity that the jazz musicians bring to the table. The whole point of this surprise collaboration was to somehow meet halfway. Unfortunately, Shipp's half performs such dilute and repetitive music that the meeting never really happens.
Without any ballast, the Antipop Consortium ends up sinking as well. They sacrifice thrust and energy in this effort to introduce jazz spirit into their music. Sure, there are some fine raps, and a wide abundance of surprising textures. But Vs. strives so hard to be accessible that it falls flat of excitement. That's a shame, given how well Shipp's previous interdisciplinary adventures have gone.
Personnel: Antipop Consortium: vocals, synth, programming; Matthew Shipp: piano; William
Parker: bass; Guillermo E. Brown: drums; Khan Jamal: vibes; Daniel Carter: