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J Spaceman and Matthew Shipp - SpaceShipp

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Artist: J Spaceman and Matthew Shipp

Album: SpaceShipp

Label: Treader

Review date: Nov. 18, 2008

The midwives of this collaboration were Spring Heel Jack (John Coxon & Ashley Wales) and Patti Smith. Coxon and Wales first brought Jason Pierce (aka J Spaceman) and Matthew Shipp together as part of the ensemble on their 2002 Thirsty Ear album Amassed and the subsequent U.K. tour that led to the Live album. Pierce and Shipp are both regular collaborators with Spring Heel Jack, and each already has a Treader release to his credit. As part of her curation of the June 2005 Meltdown festival, at London’s South Bank, Patti Smith brought Spaceman and Shipp together to play in homage to William Burroughs, performing in a trio with two of them. This album was recorded the following summer, in July 2006, and unlike most Treader albums, neither Coxon nor Wales played any part in it; Pierce himself produced it.

Despite Coxon and Wales’s proven talent for creatively combining seemingly disparate elements, the combination of Shipp and Spaceman does not seem an obvious one – although the album title (previously used as a 2001 song title by Shipp himself) must have been impossible to resist. Nonetheless, Shipp’s jazz pedigree and Spaceman’s rock leanings combine to produce a sustained drone piece that owes as much to Indian music (via La Monte Young) as it does to Fripp & Eno. Where once jamming musicians would have opted for a blues in their search for common ground, here the drone seems to fulfil the same function.

With no obvious signs of pre-agreement, and no awkward ‘after you’/‘no after you’ musical negotiation (no pussyfooting, in fact), the two are straight into “Inner,” which lasts over 40 minutes. The players are equal partners in its creation, with no struggle for control. Shipp uses harmonium to generate sustained repetitive chords, with Spaceman overlaying guitar. As with any good drone, the overall effect is mesmeric and transporting, with the shifting detail as important as the constancy of the background. A second track, “Outer” is shorter (under 11 minutes) and more episodic, less mesmeric. It sees the roles shift from the opening track, in that Spaceman’s guitar chords create a backdrop over which Shipp adds celeste details.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the track titles appear significant, with “Inner” the more reflective piece and “Outer” charting more of a journey. Taken together, the two tracks will meet the very different expectations and needs of both Shipp and Spaceman fans. No mean feat.

By John Eyles

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