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Were it not for demanding touring/recording schedules for an impressive A-list of jazz and pop musicians, bassist/composer Matthew Garrison's discography as leader would surely amount to more than the two studio recordings and one live recording up to 2004. Nevertheless, six years on, Shapeshifter Live 2010 Part 1 is cause for celebration among those who like their music cutting edge and searching. Garrison harnesses computer technology and loops to manipulate pre-programmed material, accompanied by his powerfully probing bass improvisations. It's a continuous fifty-minute piece of sonic artistry whose musical contours rise and fall in beguiling waves which are at once graceful, dramatic and bold.
The flagellated bass strings on "Life Burning" evoke Jimi Hendrix
's tortured rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock. A soulful, vaguely Arabic lull soon makes way for brash electonica and keen urban rhythms more in keeping with English bands Squarepusher or the Prodigy, and Garrison's bent notes seem to mimic war planes dropping their destructive load. This is a powerful anti-war cry, for and of its times, and it must have blown a few minds at the Littlefield Performance Space in Brooklyn where the performance was presented in surround sound.
The balladic "Changing Paths" originally appeared on Shapeshifter (GJP, 2004) and featured Garrison on bass with pre-programmed music; as such, it may have served as a catalyst for the bassist's current exploration. The soothing ambience is colored by fluttering bass runs and it's not difficult to see why Paul Simon, Chaka Khan
and Whitney Houston should seek the services of this effortlessly melodic bassist. Garrison, however, likes to surprise, and the cheerful melody of "Exchange" is pierced by electronica of a psychedelic hue. This juxtaposition of tunefulness and experimentation lies at the very heart of Garrison's music.
Garrison's bass lines cut through the trip-hop rhythms of "Unity" with boppish intensity and serenade the sci-fi effects that run throughout the set with the soulfulness of Jaco Pastorius
, notably on the mellow "Mirror Image." At times the music sounds as though it were conceived somewhere between Brooklyn and the depths of interstellar space; far out, but immediately accessible. The urban funk of "Family" segues into the wonderfully seductive "Let Go" where Garrison's trademark Fodera ripples and purrs majestically. There's a hint of Joe Zawinul
's influence about "Izzy;' vocoder effects and brooding synth-layered passages alternate with strong melodic refrains and wild, simulated guitar distortions.
An utterly absorbing live performance tails off like a shooting star that has shone fiercely but all too briefly with electronic chatter punctuated by Garrison's ghostly bass. Garrison has long since established a reputation as one of the pre-eminent electric bassists of his generation, but Shapeshifter Live 2010 Part 1 will undoubtedly go a long way to confirming his status as one of the most singular and progressive creative musicians today.
Track Listing: Life Burning; Changing Paths; Exchange; Unity; Mirror Image; Family; Let Go; Izzy.
Personnel: Matthew Garrison: bass guitar; loops, computers.