In a surprising departure from his groove-deep, electro-acoustic explorations of the past few years as the head of Thirsty Ear's "The Blue Series," forward-jazz vet Matthew Shipp channels his kaleidoscopic vision into a dozen concise, mesmerizing pieces for solo piano on his latest album. The composer-improviser's longtime fascinations with the tough-minded art of the pugilist and the endless possibilities of space travel come together on the kick-off track, "Arc," which sets the tone for the entire recording. Shipp bangs out heavy chords as if vying for a knock-out punch, then presses the foot pedal to the floor to create an enormous cosmic resonance where the notes swirl in and out of each other's harmonic spheres, as if unbound by gravity, until returning with a kind of circular logic back to the launching pad. Other titles like "Module" and "Patmos" present equally lucid forms, constructed out of big tumbling motifs interspersed with flashes of sensitivity, while the elliptical "Zero" and the elegantly minimalist "Milky Way" lean toward lyrical abstraction. The entire album is intensely dramatic (but not sensationalist), sharply focused (yet free-feeling), strong and dark (but not forbidding) -- a spellbinding union of Shipp's multifaceted selves.
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