Early in 1999 pianist Matthew Shipp announced that he was retiring from recording, claiming that most of his musical ideas had already been documented in his sizable discography. But before the year was up, Peter Gordon at Thirsty Ear Records talked Shipp into curating a new jazz imprint, the Blue Series–and the first fruit this arrangement bore was a new Matthew Shipp record. Pastoral Composure features a new quartet with Shipp’s frequent partner William Parker on bass, Roy Campbell on trumpet, and Gerald Cleaver, who’s played with Shipp and Parker in Roscoe Mitchell’s Note Factory, on drums. The opening track, “Gesture,” wouldn’t sound entirely out of place on earlier Shipp recordings, with Cleaver’s martial rhythms and Parker’s insistent bowed drone, though the pianist’s touch seems lighter than normal and Campbell’s lines have a piquant lyricism reminiscent of Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain. But the following track, “Visions,” a bona fide swinging blues piece, dispels all doubt: Shipp is definitely trying something different. Before his sabbatical, he’d formulated a very distinctive mix of brooding repetition, carefully etched dissonance, and smoldering intensity. Here he makes trademark use of the sustain pedal, and in his harmonic choices he still favors the bittersweet, but there’s a new rhythmic litheness to his soloing. The next track is another surprise, a solo performance of Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss,” which he makes his own with some wonderfully knotty phrasing and dramatic, almost dead-in-the-water rhythmic displacements. The rest of the album comprises some other originals that could loosely be classed as postbop, a dense reading of the children’s song “Frere Jacques,” and some playing tempered with the same newfound directness. Some people are bound to consider this, as well as Shipp’s similarly inclined work on the new David S. Ware album, Surrendered (Columbia), a sellout, but I say he’s expanding his vocabulary without diluting his language. Shipp performs here with Parker and Cleaver. Friday, 11:30 PM, and Saturday, 9 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Laurie Stalter.