Bobby Kapp + Matthew Shipp – Cactus (2016)

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When we last checked up on Bobby Kapp, he was singing on a casually engaging, mostly-vocal jazz album that brought “a sense of humor and fun to older classics and new originals.” This time, he’s behind a drum set co-leading a seriously improvisational album with pianist extraordinaire Matthew Shipp. That Cactus (September 16, 2016 by Northern Spy Records) is a 180 from El Guero Azul (2013) is very much in character for a man equally at ease with vocals and drums, mainstream and outside jazz, and being a New Jersey native whose long called Mexico his home.

And Kapp’s rapport with big-name improv masters has been proven at least since Gato Barbieri’s thunderous 1967 debut In Search Of the Mystery, but this seventy-six year old’s thirst to push boundaries hadn’t faded at all. Following a 2014 session where he led a quartet through a set of four free jazz performances culminating in his Themes 4 Transformation EP, Kapp delved further into a budding musical chemistry with the quartet’s pianist Shipp and Cactus is the product of that.

Shipp’s equal proficiency in tonality and purcussiveness has always made any one-on-one meeting with a drummer a natural occurring thing with him, and Kapp’s careful minding the timbral niceties likewise makes him fit well with pianists (or for that matter, any other instrument). Both can tell tonal stories with the slightest manuevering, and mind the quieter moments as much as the bombastic ones.

Cactus is full many of the former moments and a few of the latter ones, and right from the start on “Overture,” Shipp at his pondering, probing best. Meanwhile Kapp — without much fanfare — reads Shipp’s mind and acts as an extension of his sudden thoughts.

Typical of a Shipp occasion, the music is avant-garde but completely blurs the lines between dissonance and dulcet: “Before” is a walking blues Shipp style, meaning other ideas are tossed in and detours are taken but neither musician actually lose sight of that blues foundation. The two enjoy extended time together for the eleven-minute “Good Wood,” a song where Shipp skillfully negotiates the spiked terrain Kapp has laid for him, picking up energy, then gently taking his foot off the gas as if to be guided by a constantly recalibrating spiritual force. When Kapp reaches for the brushes, Shipp fades out to allow Kapp to show how to extend harmonic ideas with a ostensibly non-harmonic instrument.

The drum solos that instigate “During,” “Money” and “After” are showcases for Kapp’s nearly lost art of finding the right intonations, not just the right beats. They also enable the drummer to set the course for the performance instead of the piano. On “Money” Kapp breaks out the brushes in the middle of the song, putting into motion an evasive and impulsive swing that brings tradition squarely into freer environs. Shipp breaks into mutating circular patterns on “After” while Kapp adorns it with subtle color washes.

Matthew Shipp and Bobby Kapp might not be old acquaintances but you’d be hard pressed to know that from listening to Cactus. Finding simpatico between improvising piano and drums probably isn’t so easy to pull off convincingly, but these two make it seem that way.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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