Matthew Shipp

Meditating on Matt
Matthew Shipp at Firehouse 12

Concert Review by: Lyn Horton, Jazz Review

No stronger mind-body-spirit nexus exists other than that of meditation. In fact, the essences of all three dissolve into one in the process. The inside becomes the outside, the outside… inside. When that becoming is conscious, peace settles. And we and the universe are indistinguishable.

Meditation can assume many forms. For Matthew Shipp, that meditation is playing the piano. Shipp opened the fall season on September 22 at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, CT in a solo performance.

The space at Firehouse 12 is intimate. It makes the experience of the music inescapable. Shipp’s approach to his instrument is nothing short of direct and intensely human. The theme from Patmos from his solo recording, One, started the concert. The theme set the pace for an hour of masterful display of talent and an extraordinarily mindful grasp of direction. The theme became a comfortable nucleus out of which an organic expansion and contraction of the improvisation could take place.

The proportions of the musical space from the beginning to the end were measurable from the Patmos theme to the Gamma Ray theme (also from One) to exquisite hints of the classic Angel Eyes. These familiar phrases anchored the improvisation. The colorful extemporaneity became the between, the exhaling, the explosive. Shipp’s hands moved broadly through series after series of chords both broken and whole, accented with intermittent striking of shrill notes in the treble end of the keyboard…shrill in comparison to the dark, mysterious and vast resonance emanating from the bass notes, which Shipp treasures for an expressive medium.

Shipp mollified the hugeness of the sound with a quiet restfulness created by repeatedly stroking the keys hand over hand, in two or three note formations, downward from the tops of the keys. The action transitioned to larger and louder configurations. The music simply kept coming, relentlessly. Shipp enunciated every phrase, note, rumble, run, and chord. His eyes were always closed. He cradled his head to his left shoulder. He sat straight and tall, his chin jutting out in assuredness. He stamped his right foot as if overtaken by the paroxysms of rhythmic epiphany.

The nearly Beethoven-like culmination of the first piece arrived almost at its finish. Endless, thunderous repetitions of bass chords codified a supremely intense sonic climax. This is simply how Shipp intends to describe the improvisational enlightenment. Reaching this place becomes a source of his being. The denouement unfolded in as equally a structured mode as the beginning. Shipp’s hands deliberately moved in and out of separate and collected phrases. The second theme ushered in the resolve.

The program concluded with a brief straightforward statement. Echoes of the first piece reverberated. Even though Shipp scattered his fingers over the keys from the very start, his playing resembled a stretching and waking up period after a session of energetic, unsurpassed music.

Watching and listening to a solo performance by any musician is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Watching and listening to Matthew Shipp is one event that encapsulates a lifetime.

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