Matthew Shipp


Peter Margasak , Chicago Reader
Post No Bills blog

New York pianist Matthew Shipp, who plays solo tonight at Elastic as part of the Umbrella Music Festival, didn't release his first solo recording, One (Thirsty Ear), until 2006, 18 years into his career. That record signaled a shift in his music.


Though he hadn't stopped working with his most famous collaborator, titanic tenor saxophonist David S. Ware, he'd been spending an increasing amount of time experimenting with electronic musicians and hip-hop artists (DJ Spooky, Anti-Pop Consortium, Spring Heel Jack) -- but One signalled the start of a shift back toward acoustic sounds. One thing that Shipp never altered, though, was the rigor of his compositions and improvisations, regardless of context.

Shipp has also been spending more time with the solo format; last year he made the stunning, sparse Un Piano (Rogue Art), and in January he's releasing his best solo effort yet, 4D (Thirsty Ear).

Most of the pieces are original, and they bristle with powerful dynamic shifts and brilliant uses of space and silence.

Shipp has always had a way with the low register of his instrument, and in some of the pieces he rides the bass in knotty, thundering clusters that function as a kind of foundation or launch pad for his explosive right-handed interjections and flurries.

Though he's one of the least sentimental players out there-sometimes he even comes off as anti-ornament-there's something about the constant motion of his single-hand elaborations that makes me think of Art Tatum, albeit minus Tatum's floridness.

Shipp also tackles a handful of standards on 4D, which he works over heavily without breaking the thread of their melodies or rendering them unrecognizable; he dissects "Autumn Leaves," a tune he often performed with Ware's quartet, from all conceivable angles.

photo: Peter Gannushkin

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