Matthew Shipp is a musician who can't be easily pigeon-holed. In fact, the only pigeon hole in which he could be placed is as one of the musicians who hold to the greenest and youngest branches of the jazz tree looking for fresh air. In addition to his work with David S. Ware, he has presented contemporary music on albums like Prism (Brinkman Records, 1993) and By The Law Of Music (Hat Hut Records, 1997), as well as hip-hop on his fantastic album with Antipop Consortium (Thirsty Ear, 2003) or with El-P in High Water (Thirsty Ear, 2004). For Harmony & Abyss, his entry into electronic music follows in the steps of Equilibrium (Thirsty Ear, 2003).
The starting reference of this album is quite simple: Harmony & Abyss begins where Equilibrium leaves off. But in this case, the equilibrium seems to be broken, and the album is a continuous oscillation between melodic themes of terrible beauty and themes that drown you in their sounds. Matthew Shipp plays with his audience along the way: "Galaxy 105" offers a beautiful jazz landscape, but immediately afterwards "String Theory" provokes the claustrophobic atmosphere of a submarine. "Blood 2 The Brain" transports you directly to the dance floor, but the euphoria lasts only six short minutes until "Invisible Light" kicks in, introducing you into a cavernous darkness (only for two minutes, fortunately). And then "Amino Acid" appears, transmitting with its acoustic rhythms the sensation of a character from the Japanese anime film Akira. "Abyss" closes the recording, leaving you sleeping in the quiet ambience of the great cities. The very title of Harmony & Abyss is itself a definition, a metaphor of the album.
It's very difficult to open your ears to all the songs on this CD, since they are intentionally heterogeneous. But there is no doubt about the quality music-making of Matthew Shipp, William Parker and FLAM here. In the final balance, the album simply has too many things to say. I am not used to listening to contemporary music, but it's very different from hip-hop or electronic music. The fact that musicians with the experience and knowledge of Matthew Shipp and William Parker decided to confine themselves in the chemistry laboratory to produce this kind of mixture is, at least, an interesting experiment. Sometimes it results in an insipid drink, but electronic songs like "Ion" or "Blood 2 The Brain" present a mental exercise for jazz ears; and jazz themes like "Galaxy 105" and "Invisible Light" do the same for electronic ones. The mental exercise involved in listening to Harmony & Abyss will in the end determine who will enjoy this recording.