While many jazz bands take their names from their leaders and number of members — like, for example, The Miles Davis Quintet or The Red Garland Trio — there have been such exceptions as Return To Forever. But pianist Matthew Shipp apparently wants to have it both ways. Not only are the albums he’s made with horn player Mat Walerian credited both ways — their debut, Live At Okuden, was credited to both The Uppercut and the Matthew Shipp Mat Walerian Duo, for instance — but for the cover of Cool With That (CD, digital), the new album by the four-piece jazz band East Axis, he and his bandmates put their names on the cover as well. And yet, regardless of who gets the credit or the cover, Cool has the same kind of enticing free jazz adjacent music Shipp and his bandmates often make.
Gerald Cleaver, Kevin Ray, Matthew Shipp, Allen Lowe (Photo Credit: © Martin Philips)
Recorded August 9th, 2020, at Park West Studios in Brooklyn, New York, Cool With That is the first recording by the foursome of Shipp, alto and tenor sax player Allen Lowe, drummer Gerald Cleaver, and bassist Kevin Ray.
Not surprisingly, all of these guys have played together before, just not as a foursome. Shipp and Cleaver have recorded seven albums together, including two — Salute To 100001 Stars and Our Lady Of The Flowers — with the four-piece jazz band Declared Enemy; Shipp and Lowe have worked together almost as often; as have Lowe and Ray; while Shipp, Lowe, and Ray previous collaborated on the albums Ballad For Albert and Mulatto Radio: Field 1-4, Or: A Jew At Large In The Minstrel Diaspora. But while East Axis have played shows together, Cool With That marks the first time they’ve created something we can enjoy at home.
Though as I said, the music on East Axis’ Cool With That won’t surprise anyone who’s also stayed home to listen to any of the previous albums these guys have made, individually or together. Take the song “A Side,” which opens this five track, 65-minute-long collection, and starts out as a slow, carefully improvised bit of acoustic jazz, moody and alluring, but one that, after a minute and a half, begins to loosen up and become less structured.
Things then get rather frantic and free form on Cool With That during the aptly titled “Oh Hell I Forgot About That,” which is noisy and dissonant from the word “go.” If I didn’t know better — and I don’t — I’d say it sounds like it was freely improvised during a moment when Shipp was trying to grab a rather wily spider who’d jumped on his piano, while Ray, Cleaver, and Lowe thought he was playing something interesting and tried to match his erratic energy.
Oh, and I don’t think Shipp ever caught that spider.
Cool With That then goes back to the mellow but still free jazz adjacent realm for “Social Distance” — a rather ironic title given how this album was recorded when we were all supposed to be on lockdown. Clearly recorded by four people in the same room at the same time, the rather smoky-sounding tune has Shipp and Lowe getting a little loose with structure (but only a little), while Cleaver and Ray hold the rhythm down with some straight but still beautiful playing.
East Axis next get even smokier and late night vibe-ier with the song “I’m Cool With That,” on which Shipp, Cleaver, and Ray play like they’re in a jazz club, it’s late at night, and they’re in a good mood, with Lowe occasionally dropping in to improvise some hot licks. It’s by far the most traditional of all the tracks on Cool With That, and yet still fits perfectly with its slightly less structured brethren.
Cool With That then comes to its inevitable conclusion with the epic, and nearly half hour long “One,” (the album’s longest track by 2/3rds) on which the four piece go back to the frantic approach of “Oh Hell I Forgot About That,” albeit not to the same extent. Instead, it’s mid-way on the free jazz scale between that track and “Social Distance.” But it also features some of the album’s best improvisations, especially when Shipp just goes off on his piano like he’s mad at it for encouraging the aforementioned spider.
Joke aside (Matthew is, for the record, neither greedy nor a spider killer), East Axis’ Cool With That is an epic collection of straight and free adjacent jazz. Which is hardly surprising given whose names are on the cover.