The fourth issue of material from Matthew Shipp in 2018 finds hatOLOGY reissuing his seminal 1996 solo album Symbol Systems. 22 years after its original issue, Shipp's first set of solo piano suites still has the ability to bewilder with its depth of conceptual multiplicity and exhibition of visceral talent. It was apparent then, as it is now, that Shipp is a genuine prodigy cut of the same cloth as Ellington, Monk, and Taylor, and Braxton. The modal structures on which he improvises here are effusively fleshed out, and exhibit a revitalized sparkle imparted by the attentive remastering.
The record begins with "Clocks", a cyclic structure of percussive assertions capped with either expressive, melodious statements or pensive confessions, with each cycle presenting a unique recitation of the underlying form. "Harmonic Oscillator" is composed of jarringly sharp rhythmic statements that evolve into deep chord clusters which are violently hammered out of the piano. "Temperate Zone" arranges sparse harmonic statements and runs utilizing understated string manipulations, such that the affected filaments buzz and take on an almost harmonium-like quality. The brisk runs of "Symbol Systems" traverse the entirety of the keyboard as they rise and fall in speed and intensity creating plump shadowy constellations that are besieged with swarms of bright, stabbing treble. "The Highway" is a tonal abstraction that is broken up by inquisitive tessellations which segue into a walking, dissonant vamp of hard bop shapes and conceptions. "Self-Regulated Motion" presents a concise motif of rolling lines and patterns played with an easygoing precision that closes as abruptly as it opens, like an ephemeral avant-jazz wildflower.
The gorgeous cascade of subverted melodies and dynamic chord shapes simply titled "Frame" is almost Rachmaninoff-like in its emotive juxtapositions, after which the "Flow of Meaning" charges out in a succession of detailed staccato keyboard runs before abruptly opening up at the midpoint and strewing the open spaces with soft lines and fragmented patterns. "Dance of the Blue Atoms" exhibits a dense array of scattered, rapidly developing outlines delivered with romping enthusiasm. With "Bop Abyss" Shipp constructs a piece made up of multi-faceted, jagged forms. He delivers a lurching midpoint statement that serves to bridge the indirect bop impressions of the first half with those more directly implied traits delivered during the latter. The aptly titled "Nerve Signals" plays out like a dance of impulses within Shipp's mind and body. The piece features a throbbing left-hand bassline atop which the chord progression dances along. "Algebraic Boogie" is another shapely invention that bounces with the assertiveness of Monk, shaded by the dark harmonic contrasts of Shipp's sonic palette. The last two pieces, "The Inventor" parts 1 & 2, serve as a summation of and a coda to the collection, finding Shipp both playful and fertile.
This wonderful reissue serves as a testament to Matthew Shipp's unfathomable creative facility and potential, and presents the artist almost fully formed at the beginning of his career. A most critical release for fans of Shipp and avant-garde jazz, highly recommended.
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