By the way, the next song to play, after last night's rundown, was the title track from Matthew Shipp's Pastoral Composure, which is as good a reason as any to link to Carl Wilson's nice recent profile of Shipp.
Pastoral Composure was the first Shipp cd I bought, but not only that, it was my entry point into the vast underbelly of modern jazz. Released in 2000 on Thirsty Ear, it was Shipp's first album as curator of the Blue Series, which sought to look to a jazz future, by re-connecting with its past as well as by interacting with more modern musics, such as electronic music and hip hop. This first record was a fairly conservative one, or at any rate, was easily accessible as jazz to someone new to the music in its modern forms.
I'd listened to plenty of jazz--my favorites were the old stand-bys Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Mingus, Monk, and I was fairly familiar with the hard bop of Horace Silver, Art Blakey, and the young Wayne Shorter--but I was not interested in the jazz of Wynton Marsalis and many of the other mainstream "stars" (many of whom are plenty talented, of course, but the music generally does not appeal to me). I'm not terribly adept at describing the sound and structure of music, but Pastoral Composure's opening track, "Gesture", with its big, blocky chords, Gerald Cleaver's semi-martial drumbeat, and William Parkr's bowed bass throb had me hooked, even before Roy Campbell's plaintive trumpet comes in. This record opened up whole new areas of music for me. I consulted my trusty Penguin Guide to Jazz (which, aside from being an excellent guide, is a great read--I've spent many an hour poring over its pages, not just coveting this or that recording, but also just wanting to hear what everything sounded like; I have the fifth edition) to see what other recordings in this vein might be worth checking out. I was led to the David S. Ware Quartet and William Parker cds and later Joe McPhee and Ken Vandermark. I soon became obsessed with following leads, finding cds on hard to find European labels like Hat Hut and FMP, small American labels like AUM Fidelity and Okkadisk, loved Atavistic's Unheard Music Series (this is how I found out about the great Joe McPhee, I now recall), became interested in the history of the music, beyond what I already knew (late Coltrane, Ornette Coleman), delved deeper into 1960s free bop, the more interesting offshoot of hard bop, finding great recordings by Eric Dolphy, Andrew Hill, the ESP stuff, Albert Ayler, Paul Bley. Anthony Braxton. I got into some of the English and European free players--Brötzmann, Evan Parker, Han Bennink. My general (perhaps unfortunate) completist tendency met its match with this music. It is not possible to keep up. Records go in and out of print, much of it is unavailable in the US to begin with, I'd snap cds up if I saw them, knowing I might not see them again. My jazz collection and appreciation exploded. I subscribed to Cadence. I was finally able to catch some of this stuff live--Other Dimensions in Music playing with Joe McPhee in New Jersey, the Vandermark 5 in Chicago at the Empty Bottle, McPhee and Jeb Bishop the next day at the Candlestick Maker, the Chicago Underground Duo, the Ellery Eskelin Trio.
As might have been expected, exhaustion set in. After about four years of it, I lost interest in closely following the music. I didn't lose interest in the music itself, but I'd hit a wall (partly financial, to be sure), and I couldn't do it any more. The only musicians I currently keep semi-abreast of are William Parker, Joe McPhee, and Anthony Braxton. Braxton has such a huge discography that I could keep myself occupied with him for years if I so chose.
With the Blue Series, for a while I was really into it. I wanted to keep up, to hear all the different permutations. I loved the Spring Hill Jack cds, especially the first one. I think it was with DJ Spooky's Optometry that I started to stray. That album was not bad, but it lacked something, something hard to pin down. I had no interest in the Anti-Pop Consortium stuff. Then I just lost track. As for Shipp himself, I strongly disliked Nu Bop, felt it was too much of an exercise, that it never took off. But, Equilibrium was much better, I thought it sounded like a new thing, with a nice use of vibes along with Shipp's, in this case, funky piano.
Ultimately, the problem was me, a lack of time, of money, too many other musical interests taking attention away; I've let my subscription to Cadence lapse. But there's also a lot to take in--and this music, with, at its best and most interesting, its innate eclecticism helped shape my ears further, opening up vistas of new sounds for me, I think. I rather liked Equilibrium, but I haven't bought anything by Shipp since. Wilson's piece makes me want to find 2004's Harmony and Abyss.