John Farris, Lower East Side News
Matthew Shipp is a conceptual musician whose concern is inventing a music that will approach & break the sound barrier; if you will -- a meta-language. His music is muscular, far ranging, intensely improvisational, though linear, precise. A well-read, articulate person, he is deceptively soft-spoken, the pitch of his voice rising & falling with the gist of what it is he happens to be saying, allowing the statement not only a context, but a specific context, the words tumbling into sentences, surging over each other until they have become well-turned phrases, density of point & counterpoint, & eventually, an essay as pleasing for its delivery as for its essence.
This same voluble, uninhibited manner characterizes his music as well, infusing it with the honesty of the confession of a real emotion.
A classically trained musician, he is a true maverik, influenced as much by John Coltrane & Ahmad Jainal as by Pierre Boulez, Arnold Schoenberg, & Anton Weberg. Indeed, to him, breaking the sound barrier means doing away with the political attitudes towards music, the barriers between the "classical" & the "jazz." He wants to demonstrate that what is referred to as being "traditional" can be approached without walls; that is, opened to fresh interpretations that can provide an expanded harmonic space, i.e., allow for the "non-classical."
What makes him different from the other musicians who take this approach, Cecil Taylor, for example, Mr. Shipp says, is that while they are both rhythmical stylistically, he himself employs a more delicate touch, a more nodal approach.
While there are jazz elements in his playing, he is not concerned with playing jazz as such, his concerns are more with the metaphysics of the language of music as a whole, of total rhythmic & tonal hypothesis. His thought is pure line, the coming together of very separate linear fnigments. His compositions, while improvisational, are not confined an eight bar idea with thirty-two bar solos accompanied by a rhythm section, but address more the questions posed by the logical resolution of a phrase in a group setting. The diatonic does not interest him as do clusters of notes. He would avoid the cliches imposed by a "classical" jazz tradition.
Born in Wiliragton, Delaware in 1960, Mr. Shipp began playing piano at the age of five, encouraged by an organist uncle, & not long after attracted the attention of Robert "Boysie" Lowery, a teacher of jazz great Clifford Brown. Contintung his studies there through high school, he left Delaware at the age of twenty-two, heading for New England, where he attended both Berklee & the New England Conservatory of Music, where he studied with Dennis Sandole, teacher, among others, of John Coltrane, James Moody, & Art Farmer, though he more often than not forwent classes for his own practice.
Coming to the East Village in '84 because he couldn't make it playing new music in Boston, he worked with alto saxophonist Rob Brown (with whom he'd attended the Now England Conservatory of Music) & drummer Frank Bambara for about a year, & then formed "Convection" with ellist Abdul Waddoud & violinist Keno Yamashita, a group that changed both with demands of the composition & his ability to amwt players. Others personnel has included drtunmers Steve McCall & Dennis Charles, cellist Akua Dixon-Tuffe, and bassist William Parker the compositions offered by these groupings his own.
His first alburn, Sonic Explorations (Cadence CJR 1037) a duet with Rob Brown contains a six-part suite of the same name (remember the sound barrier) composed by himself & Mr. Brown, & his own arrangement of Sonny RoUins' "Oleo," & Miles Davis' & Bill Evans' "Blue & Green". On "Oleo" Mr. Shipp doesn't play chord changes, but fragments the melody metrically. The arangement is based on improvisation in the melody rather than in the solo -- the contours the melody itself determining the structure of the improvisation, a technique he often employs to force invention when playing someone else's compositions. In "Blue & Green" the melody fragmented by Mr. Brown while Mr. Shipp improvises on the melody through a set of harmonic variations. Thee music produced is provocative, challenging, defiant of category.
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