After a productive period in the 1960s, drummer Bobby Kapp revived his career at the start of the millennium. Among his latter projects was The Fine Wine Trio with pianist Richard Wyands and bassist Gene Perla. The group was commissioned by the US State Department to tour Africa and Jordan as "Jazz Ambassadors." That music, being decidedly mainstream, did not reflect Kapp's free jazz affinity having played with the likes Archie Shepp and much more recently with alto saxophonist Noah Howard on Between Two Eternities (Self-Produced, 2009). Throughout four decades, whether playing lounge jazz or avant-garde, Kapp has flown significantly and inexplicably below the radar.
In polar opposition, we have Matthew Shipp. A force of nature whose readily identifiable style has made him one of the most notable and recognizable pianists. Controversial in his bombastic dislike of critics and a steadfast refusal to acknowledge the influence of any pianistic forbearers, Shipp would seem an unlikely personality match for the restrained Kapp. But music, being the great equalizer, the two teamed up as half of Kapp's quartet on the excellent (and grossly under-recognized) Themes 4 Transmutation (Self-Produced, 2014) and have now moved on to this outstanding duo outing, Cactus.
The nine track set opens with "Overture" and finds Shipp taking the time to exploring antecedents and consequences of each facet of the piece. As he does so, Kapp shifts position frequently, sometimes in accord, often in contrast and eventually utilizing the entire kit to make his own distinctive statement. The bluesy motif of "Before" is more organized at the outset but moves into freer territory towards its conclusion. Kapp provides an extended and thundering introduction to "During" before Shipp heads down a path moving from abstraction to lyricism. A standout piece is "Money"; again featuring a lengthy opening solo from Kapp, this time both complex and nuanced. Shipp's playing here is sprightly and expressive, his angular approach softened but not completely exenterated.
Cactus is impressive from both musical and organization standpoints. The symmetry between Kapp and Shipp suggests nothing less than two players who can manage the balance of structure and freedom while having no tolerance for ambiguity. The music is engaging from beginning to end and, more importantly, there is an element of surprise in each piece that makes the overall album extremely satisfying. Kapp is now seventy-four and it's about time for him to get some higher level of recognition. With the Shipp brand in play, Cactus may be the album to move the needle.
Overture; Before; During; Money; Cactus;After; Good Wood; Snow Storm Coming; Drum-a-Phone; The 3rd Sound.
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