As you might surmise from its title, this most recent release in Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series involves the pairing of abstract hip-hoppers with the equally avant-garde work of the pianist Matthew Shipp. Both were involved with two of last year’s finest releases, APC’s own Arrythmia and David S. Ware’s Freedom Suite, respectively.
In the past, Thirsty Ear has combined improvisational jazz players with artists such as DJ Spooky and Spring Heel Jack, taking elements from each and successfully creating a new genre of expression. The news that this is Antipop’s last group release lends an extra air of anticipation.
If you feel the need to pit the performances captured here against each other, you’re bound for a bit of a struggle. Yet if you view the album as a collaboration it can be equally off-putting. Matthew Shipp, when given moments of full release on the album, is able to turn melody on its ear, creating inverse, fluid moments that ought to continue into the stratosphere. But often they are just brief moments that never fully blossom. The Antipop crew comes closest to giving the feeling of a broadened horizon. The rhyming on “Real Is Surreal” is loose and ready to spiral off into lyrical inexplicability. The groundwork is there, but the track fades to close as the momentum builds. The push-and-pull effect that should be rampant on this album is absent. Although each track provides moments of fusion, the performers never get as far out as they can. There is too much politeness in the blend, as if they are just kindly alternating moments in the spotlight.
Elsewhere (especially the final track, “Free Hop”), bassist William Parker and vibraphonist Khan Jamal provide the perfect percussive balance for the sort of hip-hop and jazz crossover that people have assumed was coming ever since Gang Starr released “Jazz Thing” back in 1990. But again, the full payoff never arrives.
On a track-by-track basis, this really is an incredible record. It is smart enough to indulge certain facets of the performers personalities (be it APC’s sparse, cosmic, and scattered beats or Shipp’s plink-plonk repetitions) while never giving the impression that this is anything but a small piece in the enormous, constantly unraveling puzzle in the worlds of hip-hop and modern jazz.