Matthew Shipp, 'New Orbit' (2001)

At the end of Playing Changes is a list: The 129 Essential Albums of the Twenty-First Century (So Far). I organized these by year, and then alphabetically by artist name. I'll be running them down here, in that order. (No one appears more than once as a leader, though there’s ample overlap in personnel.)

Matthew Shipp was on a serious tear in the early 2000s: working hard and fast in the David S. Ware Quartet, which has already appeared in the 129 Essential Albums rundown; curating the Blue Series, a stylish imprint on the Thirsty Ear label; and of course, releasing album upon album of furiously smart improvised music, with an array of heavyweight collaborators. 


I could have chosen almost any of Shipp's albums from this period and felt secure in my reasoning. But I'm thinking in particular of Pastoral Composure, released in 2000, which kicked off the Blue Series in full stride. It chronicled an excellent free-improvising quartet with Roy Campbell on trumpet and flugelhorn, William Parker on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. New Orbit, from 2001, enlisted the same rhythm section with a different trumpeter: Wadada Leo Smith, a powerful elder in the avant-garde, a figure of fierce concentration and unwavering commitment to the moment.

Listen here to "Chi," one of the longer tracks on the album, which opens with a trumpet invocation as penetrating and grave as a military fanfare. When the ensemble joins the fray, just over a minute in, it's with a sense of instant communion, as if they've already been silent partners in the exchange. 

Buy New Orbit at Amazon, or stream it on Spotify or Apple Music.