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Ex-Hiroshima keyboard wizard John Shipley has taken the jazz fusion aspirations of his old outfit into a whole different arena, to good effect. Shipleys strength lies in his ability to mix genres and mood: classic jazz riffs cross-pollinate easily with thickly syncopated rap vocals as well as luxurious excursions into smoky R&B and the retro grandeur of a big band, orchestral feel. Soaring, emotional, lushly extravagant and dramatic, Shipleys songs have real power and originality, gelling his influences into a charming new whole thats moody, intense and ambient simultaneously.
Shipped is a disc thats probably best listened to late at night -- though its impressive instrumental loop-de-loops might make for a spectacular live show as well. What space-warps Shipley into a broader musical universe is his easy transition to an urban-laced sound which relies on vocals as its central focus. (Credit Motown producer Greg Wright, who brings the classic R&B cachet of former colleagues Natalie Cole, Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye to the mix.)
The discs high point is no doubt "Its A Street Level Life," featuring Indeya Jones impassioned, subterranean-club-hopping-rap-crossover-diva vocals. However, Shipley makes the all-instrumental tracks cross over as well by the sheer emotional force of his aggressive, emphatic keyboard style. Thats especially evident on Shipleys re-working of the Hiroshima classic, "Another Place."
A fluid and evocative musician, Shipley guides his ensemble with the assured, well-oiled approach of the veteran he is, working his outfits expanded sonic vocabulary with aplomb.
Other highlights of this sure-to-be-a-smooth-jazz-station-fave excursion include the percolating keyboard work of "Mr. Yesterday." Dan and June Kuramoto from Hiroshima, Larry Klimas from Manhattan Transfer, Randy Hall from the Miles Davis Band, and Alex Acuna from Weather Report contribute properly jaw-dropping chops as guest musicians on this recommended disc.
Daina Darzin is a frequent contributor and reviewer for The Hollywood Reporter, MTV Online, and Rolling Stone Magazine and All About Jazz.