Album Review: Alternating Current

Alternating Current by Jeff Cosgrove: drums / Matthew Shipp: piano / William Parker: bass

By Devin Brahja Waldman

I listened to this album several times, and in a few different settings: daytime, nighttime, speakers, headphones, bathtub, etc. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing two of these musicians perform live a number of times. I wasn’t previously familiar with Jeff Cosgrove though, the drummer and leader of the date.

Let me start with Matthew Shipp. He provides strong flavors to the musical mix. There’s so much content to every chord of his. His two handed thrusts aren’t impenetrable to the ear but act as gateways to a new way of hearing things. It’s a good headspace to be in. Wacky, hip, sophisticated. And beyond. His regular working trio— with Michael Bisio and Whit Dickey— has some serious synergy to it. They go way out. It’s a beautiful thing to see.

Although it’s hard for a session band— and I’m making an assumption here— to compete synergistically with a group that plays together all the time, this trio with Cosgrove definitely has some positive empathic vibrations to it as well. You can hear that they’re all listening to each other, having a good time speaking sounds to one another. As they should. This definitely goes a long way.

Shipp’s piano seems to be the priority in the mix. It’s mixed very nicely, I think. But the bass and drums don’t seem to get the same love from the mixing man. I don’t mean this simply in terms of volume. Then again I did get used to the mix after a while. Perhaps the defect was within me. I thought the bass and drums could use some extra love though. Microphones as tools of harmonious texture: a harmony between blurry and in focus. Adjust that lens until ahhh. I’m picky though. Especially at around thirteen minutes or so into the first song when Cosgrove switches to his ride cymbal. I’d want a telescope on that thing, so to speak. Not a microscope in perfect focus. It’s borderline abrasive. I know that’s a strong word to use and I don’t mean to be rude. Yet, I ought to mention, there were at least two times I listened to it where it didn’t bother me. I won’t edit out the contradictions. And to be clear, I’m not criticising it for being low-fi because it’s not. I have nothing against low-fi or hi-fi anyway.

This is an improvised album. Off the cuff. They do well creating music out of thin air. Following each other into new moods. They do play a Paul Motian tune called Victoria towards the end. It’s probably my favorite one. It’s so lovely. They approach it tenderly and solemn-like. Paul Motian passed away not long ago. You feel the weight of that; as well as the flight. They chase each other around just to end up back where they started. Short and sweet.

Some people may roll their eyes at this, but the only other thing I would add as so-called criticism is that in an ideal world more thought would be put into the overall aesthetic of this music’s delivery. I mentioned the mix before. That falls under the same category to me. Now I’m talking about the artwork, photography and design. I mean absolutely no disrespect, but ideally an object like a CD should make the owner feel cool for owning it. Or, with time, a feeling more profound than feeling cool. Once, jazz had world class producers and cultural revolutionaries overseeing the aesthetic of the music’s delivery. Now the savviest and most dialed in producers seem to be involved in other styles of music. So be it. Things change. But it’s something to take into consideration for everyone who is still involved. Style and substance are a powerful combination. That’s my only gripe.

What, you thought I would criticise William Parker’s playing? As you must know, William Parker has been around for eons. No one can touch him. He’s the don, the daddy, the boss of living low frequency freewheeling jazz musicians. He’s a champion, a survivor. Thank you for this, William Parker. Thank you also to Matthew Shipp and Jeff Cosgrove.

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