Anti-Pop Consortium vs. Matthew Shipp
t’s strange that the final album of critically acclaimed underground hip-hop outfit Antipop Consortium should be posited as a competition between the trio and jazz musician Matthew Shipp, who provides the instrumental backing on this collaborative album. After all, how often would you expect the music on a hip-hop album to match the intensity of a good MC -- particularly when the rappers in question are as inventive and talented as Antipop’s Beans and High Priest? But if anybody could rise to the challenge, it’s Shipp, a New York-based pianist who’s been earning quite a reputation for his utter refusal to conform to traditional jazz standards.
In fact, despite the billing as a throwdown, this album comes across as more as a collaboration, with Antipop largely taking the backseat to Shipp and the other musicians he’s assembled for this outing. The impressive lineup includes a number of frequent Shipp collaborators, including vibraphonist Khan Jamal and bassist William Parker (both of whom also played on Shipp’s Equilibrium), drummer Guillermo E. Brown, and trumpeter Daniel Carter. The results, unsurprisingly, are very nice, but frequently one wishes that Antipop had been just a little more active on this project. Instead, they seemed so awed by the talents of their backing band, and so un-used to working with “real” musicians, that they step back from their typical confrontational role for much of the album.
When Shipp and the Consortium do truly work together, the album approaches the promise that this pairing seemed to contain. On “Coda,” Antipop producers E. Blaize and Sayyid manipulate Brown’s drumming and Parker’s bass, fitting the rhythm section into an abstract collage of electronic sound effects, as the two MCs slur out their rapid-fire rhymes. However, even this illustrates the problem with this album: when the collaboration actually works, it’s because of one collaborator or the other, not the convergence of the two. The next track, “Stream Light,” is all Shipp and his band on a pleasant -- if a little fluffy -- instrumental that contains virtually no hint of Antipop’s participation.
Both parties here turn out some good stuff on its own merits: the lovely vibes-and-piano instrumental “SVP” is largely dominated by Shipp and his group, with Antipop adding only minimal blurping electronics, while the Consortium takes control of “Real is Surreal,” reducing Shipp’s contributions to merely a sample. The closest the two groups ever come to approaching each other on equal footing is “Slow Horn,” which lives up to its name with a plaintive trumpet line from Carter; Beans introduces the cut by saying, “this is powerful music here,” before adding some equally powerful raps to the mix. Elsewhere, there’s plenty to recommend this album, but rarely do Shipp and Antipop ever really come together.
The opening instrumental “Places I’ve Never Been” fuses Shipp’s lively piano with hip-hop beats and some creative sampling which turns the pianist’s playing into a stop-start loop over skittery drumming. The closer “Free Hop” remains much closer to traditional jazz, with minimal interference from Antipop, but it’s still a powerful conclusion to this disc. Despite being a very enjoyable listen from start to finish, this record also has a clear sense of unfulfilled promise. In a contest between the jazzers and the rappers, it’s not really clear who wins, because the two groups rarely ever directly confront each other. What hints of convergence there are here provide a dizzying sense of excitement, suggesting the incredible (and as-of-yet largely unexplored) promise that a full-fledged fusion of jazz with hip-hop could provide in the future.
Reviewed by: Ed Howard
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01