By Steve Guimond, Hour
World-renowned pianist leaps effortlessly between formats
Matthew Shipp is the shit. The bespectacled, shy pianist comes from a place you and I have never seen, a plane few people get to witness, a haven of creation, originality and pure musicianship. He's been banging away at the ivory for a couple of decades now in all formats imaginable - solo, duo, trio, quartet, you name it.
His name has appeared beside the jazz giants of our time - Roscoe Mitchell, Susie Ibarra, Mat and Joe Maneri, Roy Campbell, Evan Parker, Barre Phillips, Randy Petersen and William Parker. It's with this last gentleman, hands down the best free bassist walking the earth today, that Shipp has shared the most live and recorded experiences with throughout his career. Their best-known gig has been as side dudes to modern saxophone colossus David S. Ware in his long-standing quartet. That group has sadly just called it a day at the Parker-curated Vision Festival in New York City, playing their last North American gig on June 18.
"It's been a great experience, but the group has been together since 1989 and I think as a creative force the group's best work is behind us, even though we are capable of putting on a good concert," says Shipp. "I think it is best that everyone move on... the group has a huge body of work behind us, but I do not know how much more you can get out of that concept."
Matthew Shipp returned to a forgotten format earlier in 2006 with the release of One, a gorgeously complex solo-piano canvas. This one was a long time coming, explains Shipp bluntly.
"There is so much time between solo releases because labels are afraid of making solo piano albums because they are a hard sell. The impetus behind One is that it really felt like the right time for a solo CD. I've been putting my piano sound in a lot of contexts, so I felt the need to force people to have to deal directly and only with the specific vocabulary that I generate on the piano."
He has also been keeping busy with his ongoing role as producer and curator of Thirsty Ear's treasured Blue Series, a genre-busting throwdown of jazz past, present and future. Shipp has been instrumental in seeing what happens when you, say, pair him and Parker with Antipop Consortium or El-P, or the infinite possibilities that arise when you invite artists like Dave Lombardo (Slayer, Fantomas) or Spring Heel Jack to record for a jazz label and series. Those curious about what's happening in the new outer jazz realm will not be disappointed with any of these releases.
This year's fest sees Shipp in a first-time pairing with French bassist Joelle Léandre, bound to be a cosmic encounter. "I have heard Joelle play and I am a fan, so I just come in being myself, but mindful of what she does, and knowing I will have to do whatever I have to do to have a nice flow and dialogue."
Let the words begin!
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