Matthew Shipp

Jazz pianist Matthew Shipp performs
at 560 Music Center

Saint Louis Today

Jazz has always depended on the boldness of its visionaries, from Louis Armstrong to Miles Davis, and from Charlie Parker to John Coltrane. Satchmo, Miles, Bird and Trane understood that jazz is not a thing, but a process — and the process is never ending.

Another musician who understands that is Matthew Shipp, who has been called one of the most visionary jazz pianists to emerge in the last 25 years. Shipp will perform with bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey tonight at the 560 Music Center in a New Music Circle presentation. The concert is likely to include material from the pianist's new double album, "The Art of the Improviser," which features trio performances on one disc and solo improvisations on the other.

In a recent interview, Shipp noted the contrast between the "very crunchy, dark sound" of the trio cuts and the "almost concert-hall sound" of the solo tracks. The trio was recorded live at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy, N.Y. The solo performances are from a gig at the hip New York club Le Poisson Rouge.

"It's two slightly different aspects of me," says Shipp, 50, whose often volcanic attack has helped to earn him a rock following. But he's equally capable of eliciting sounds of subtle beauty.

Shipp's recordings reflect a vast range of musical influences, including pianist-composers Thelonious Monk and Frédéric Chopin.

"I like Chopin because he's an insane poet of the piano," Shipp says. "And I like the poetic imagination of Monk. I'm interested in music, not genres."

Although Shipp is strongly associated with the jazz avant-garde, some of his compositions — such as "Visions" on the 2000 album "Pastoral Composure" — wouldn't have been out of place on a straight-ahead Blue Note recording of the 1960s.

Apart from his own projects, Shipp is best known for his stint in saxophonist David S. Ware's quartet, alongside bassist William Parker and various drummers, including Dickey. Early in his career, Shipp often drew comparisons to the legendary Cecil Taylor because both pianists make judicious use of dissonance in their playing.

But more recently, Shipp has been acknowledged as an original who bridges the gap between jazz and modern classical music.

"What's going on in my playing, is me," he says. "The whole way my mind works gets translated into an instrument, and you can't always look at that through a trajectory within jazz history. But at the same time, I am a jazz pianist."

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