Having recorded one live album on their own (2015’s excellent Live At Okuden) and a second live album as a trio with drummer Hamid Drake (2016’s also excellent Live At Okuden), the jazz duo of pianist, organist Matthew Shipp and alto saxophonist, bass clarinetist, soprano clarinetist, and flutist Matt Walerian are mixing things up again for This Is Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People (CD, digital), their first studio album and first recording with bassist, shakuhachi player William Parker. That it took such a long sentence to explain was not intentional, but it was fitting given the music they’ve made this time out.
Recorded December 15th, 2015 in Brooklyn, New York — three years after the previous albums took place — This Is Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People features five original tunes that all clock in between eleven and twenty minutes long. By comparison, the only tracks on the Live At Okuden discs to hit double digits were sixteen minutes long “Black Rain” on the first one (which has ten tracks), and the eleven minute “One For” and the eighteen-and-a-half “Coach On Da Mic” on the second (which has thirteen).
The significance being that the tracks on This Is Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People are far more sprawling and free form than those on either Live At Okuden collection. While the first nine songs on on the first Live At Okuden were seamless, and worked as a rather varied hour-long suite, it wasn’t as structurally loose as such Beautiful tunes as the fourteen-minute-long album ender “Peace And Respect” or the twenty-minutes-plus “The Breakfast Club Day 2.”
More importantly, there’s a different sonic pallet at work on This Is Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People. In part, of course, because this marks the first time Shipp and Walerian have worked with a bass player. But it’s more because said bass player is William Parker, a staple of the free jazz scene (as best exemplified, I think, by the albums Compassion Seizes Bed-Stuy, Posium Pendasem, and The Peach Orchard that he recorded with the group In Order To Survive).
On “The Breakfast Club Day 1,” for instance, Parker conjures the kind of moody and abrasive sounds out of his instrument that might prompt some smart ass to joke he’s rubbing it the wrong way…if that ass wasn’t a fan of free jazz, of course. Though Parker’s not alone in pushing the conventions of what is and isn’t acceptable on that track. Shipp also plays with an aggression we haven’t heard as much in his collaborations with Walerian before (though we have on other albums of his).
This Is Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People also sounds different from the Live At Okuden albums because, along with the bass, Parker plays the shakuhachi, a Japanese flute, while Walerian plays a lot more of his flute here than he has on either of the Live At Okuden albums. The opening track “Lessons,” for example, starts off with just Parker and Walerian on their respective flutes. Though, again, things get decidedly free jazz-y when Shipp comes in with some carefully selected and atmospheric piano tones, something Parker mirrors later when he takes up his bass.
That’s not to say that This Is Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People doesn’t have its moody moments. In the song “This Is Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People,” Shipp, Walerian, and Parker play the kind of thoughtful, atmospheric — though still loosely structured — jazz that made the two Live At Okuden albums so great. The only bummer being that, at 11:11, it’s the shortest track on the album.
It’s also an outlier on This Is Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People. While “Peace And Respect,” which ends the album, also starts off in a dark mood, it slowly becomes more and more free jazz-y as it goes along.
In the end, This Is Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People is collectively the loosest and most aggressive sounding album Matthew Shipp and Mat Walerian have made together, as well as being the least moody and atmospheric. Which is why it’s my least favorite of the three. But it’s also, in many ways, the most unique and interesting, and still quite good, showing why this duo remain some of the most intriguing and vibrant jazz musicians working today.