Pianist Matthew Shipp has been a cornerstone of modern free jazz for decades. Drummer Bobby Kapp is less well known, but since a flurry of activity in the ’60s, has been distilling a potent style away from the national press. On their first recorded meeting, Cactus (Northern Spy Records), they’ve created sculptural improvisations through a combination of building up and carving away.
Cactus is rife with a rhythmic intensity that’s derived from unexpected angles. “Overture” centers on Kapp’s clicking drumming and his tiny hits on the side of the cymbals and the rim of the snare, which cut through Shipp’s tart, coiled lines. This tightness makes the cells of release—a full snare hit or a roll—come on like a burst of lighting.
More classical jazz rhythms and construction have a place on the record as well. “Before” takes saloon time and deconstructs it, speeding up and slowing down as the evening slips out of the grasp of the drinkers in the picture. There’s a palpable joy in the way they slide between tempos to create an overarching mood that’s big enough to encompass snatches of tangos, waltzes, and shards-of-glass arpeggios. “Money” opens with a building drum figure of shaking percussion and rolling toms, then a torrent of ominous and seductive piano. Shipp’s piano stabilizes into a crystalline melody as Kapp follows on brushes. It’s a finger-snapping moment that nonetheless doesn’t let the listener have it that easily. The longest track here, “Good Wood,” has a title that appropriately speaks to materiality. It understands that the heart of a piece is in every note and in the connections between those notes as it points to what comes after and nods at what’s come before. Cactus is a testament to the sparks that can fly in an early interaction with a new partner.