Trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis and vibraphonist/percussionist/synthesist James Shipp team up for Multitudes, an eclectic electro-acoustic showcase
The album uses a broad palette of acoustic instruments and analog synthesizers in its mix of intricate compositions and lyrical improvisation
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
— Walt Whitman
“We’re thinking of an ensemble, but it’s an ensemble made of us.” That’s how James Shipp describes the conception behind Multitudes, the latest collaboration by the duo of Shipp and longtime musical partner Nadje Noordhuis. The album contains a many-layered mix of acoustic instruments and programmed synthesizers. Imagine Depeche Mode recording for ECM.
The pair have performed and recorded as a duo, with a full band, and together in others’ bands. Their most recent duo project, Indigo, closely mirrored their live shows, with some use of synths but primarily trumpet and vibes played live in the studio. After its recording, Noordhuis and Shipp started imagining a second project with a broader palette of sounds and parts.
“We had made Indigo by taking the pure duo, where maybe there was a synth going or a little bit of percussion happening, but it was pretty much me playing vibes and Nadje playing trumpet and flugelhorn,” said Shipp. “After we made it, we said, ‘Oh it would be cool if this song had bass, and this song had some kind of repeated pattern in the melody.’ I had it in my head that it would be great to write an album where we planned to make a large ensemble record that’s just made of layers of Nadje and I.”
Noordhuis and Shipp split the writing duties, making use of several workshopping sessions at which they’d rehearse with pre-made tracks in the digital audio workstation Pro Tools. Those tracks came from music written by both Noordhuis and Shipp. The two would play along with the tracks, figure out what worked and what didn’t, then Shipp would edit or in some cases completely redesign the tracks. In February 2022 they went to Bunker Studio in Brooklyn and recorded the acoustic instruments. That led to more editing of the synth tracks from Shipp, and a final studio recording session later in the year.
“It was like we were sending a letter back and forth to ourselves through time,” said Shipp. “And we kept seeing this evolution of the music through me recording at home and then us reconvening in the studio a second time over the summer. It was many layers of us, and us revising the way we were accompanying ourselves.”
The result is a stunning collection of ten melodically beautiful, harmonically adventurous, and rhythmically compelling pieces. It’s ethereal and soaring music that still remains firmly grounded in the hands and lungs and hearts of two masterful musicians who’ve spent more than a decade making music together.
The album gives space to the listener to add their own stories, but many of the compositions also come with stories of their own. “Candlestick Carol” makes use of a surprising collection of brass candlesticks tied together on a string to tell the tale of Shipp’s first Christmas without his family around him. He wrote it on Christmas Day while his parents were in Germany visiting his sister, who had recently relocated overseas. “Encantamento” was intended to be the first of four completely improvised pieces on the album, but when the recording session took place Shipp just stood back and listened to Noordhuis play, deciding instead to take her solo recording back home, where he composed a mixed acoustic/synthetic percussion accompaniment.
“The decade I’ve been playing with Nadje has been the decade of my getting into analog synthesizers and electronic instruments and effects,” said Shipp, who added that he didn’t grow up listening to the music of classic synth bands like Depeche Mode or Kraftwerk. Instead, he’s influenced by more contemporary artists, in particular English electronic music Ben Edwards, who performs under the name Benge. “He’s playing a lot of the same vintage 20th century modular gear that everybody covets, but he thinks like a composer in a way that I really like. When I listen to him, I think, ‘Wow, I would love to make acoustic sounds to pair with what this is.’ And so, this album is me saying, ‘Can I be an electronic composer and just fold in the thing I’ve done before?’”
The answer to that question is a definitive “yes.” This is an expansive album that sounds like the work of many rather than two. It’s unlike anything you’ll hear this year and it rewards repeated listening. But more than that, it’s the clear result of two composers and performers who understand one another at a molecular level, and who are willing to create music using their entire hearts.
Or, as Shipp put it beautifully, “It’s like a galaxy of stars of Nadje and me.”
Nadje Noordhuis – trumpet, flugelhorn, vocals, piano, mellotron, recorder
James Shipp – vibraphone, marimba, synthesizers, percussion, piano, mellotron
1. Snow Line (Shipp)
2. These Days (Noordhuis)
3. Multitudes (Shipp)
4. Lumino (Noordhuis)
5. Candlestick Carol (Shipp)
6. Encantamento (Noordhuis and Shipp)
7. Run Together (Noordhuis)
8. Flanked (Shipp)
9. Rainbow (Noordhuis)
10. To Say Goodbye (Noordhuis)
Recorded at Bunker Studio in Brooklyn
Recorded and mixed by Aaron Nevezie
Produced by Nadje Noordhuis and James Shipp
Mastered by David Kowalski