East Axis: No Subject

Gerald Cleaver, Kevin Ray, Scott Robinson and Matthew Shipp play restless, largely unstructured, seemingly improvised music

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The previous East Axis album had Allen Love on reeds but No Subject finds jazz’s “man for all seasons” Scott Robinson replacing him. In addition, this versatile musician brings extra instruments to the table which are often switched during the course of a single track.

Drummer Gerald Cleaver is entirely responsible for the 12 selections. They do contain some structure but the processes involved in performing this music mean the listener is taken into some extreme areas, probably best illustrated by the 10-minute plus Decisions Have Already Been Made. Robinson’s tenor kicks the piece off over a fast, urgent background from bass and drums, before a segue into a more considered passage where upper-register saxophone is buoyed up by an increasingly turbulent accompaniment; eventually, reed is replaced by brass. Pianist Shipp then explores both ends of his instrument and we are surprised by the return of the saxophone.

The cliché that certain music “makes demands on the listener” applies throughout the disc, with themes being illusory and often indefinable; it seems the drive to improvise is the constant factor. Time signatures are occasionally introduced but often dispensed with very quickly: shifting patterns are what East Axis is all about, many of the backgrounds being fragmented.

Shipp is a restless pianist whose approach varies depending on the demands of the moment. He even hints at Monk as he dances his way through the medium-paced I Like It Very Much. Ray is a bass player seemingly totally at home in this restless environment and Cleaver enhances his reputation as a go-to man at the sharper edges of the music.

Discography
At The Very Least: I Like It Very Much; Somebody Just Go In, Please; Sometime Tomorrow; Decisions Have Already Been Made; Metal Sounds; Excuse My Absence; I Take That Back; To Be Honest; Word And Respect; See What You Think; No Subject (69.25)
Gerald Cleaver (d); Kevin Ray (b); Scott Robinson (ts, acl, tarogato, t, slide c); Matthew Shipp (p). New York, 16-17 June 2022.
Mack Avenue BRO4003