Matthew Shipp

Lite Jazz fans run for cover

MATTHEW SHIPP is now bigger and better than ever. To the uninitiated, Matt's mental muzak sounds like fingernails across the proverbial chalkboard. To the more attuned, that's the whole damn point. Shipp can best be described as a true modern master of Free Jazz in the grand tradition of Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, or Art Ensemble Of Chicago. And whether he's aware of it or not, Shipp's music carries with it an agenda of confrontation.

You may be familiar with Matthew's slew of recordings, the best known of which appeared on Henry Rollins' prolific 2-13- 61 imprint, or you may have experienced his collaborative work with the likes of Joe Morris, David S. Ware and William Parker on Aum Fidelity.

How to describe Shipp music? An unholy alliance of disjointed piano riffs, off-tempo rhythms -- and no boring lyrics to cloud the soundscape. But please, leave all your misconceptions at the door.

Mister Shipp is an amazing man -- thoughtful, emotive, and cool as hell. He can thoughtfully articulate his demanding artistic vision, yet knows exactly why his music ain't ready for the mass media mindset. So come over and join in on this powerful confusion; or remember to get the fuck out of the way.

SECONDS: Are you a Jazz musician?

SHIPP: I consider what I'm going for outside of Jazz but I go through the funnel of my background, which is Jazz. To answer your question, yes and no. I am a Jazz musician but I consider myself in the post-Coltrane tradition of going for a universal sound. There are religious themes in my music that might not fall in the sphere of what people call Jazz.

SECONDS: For people who don't know the reference points, what scene do you come out of?

SHIPP: I call myself a post-Coltrane musician, being that I play a Jazz-influenced music for spiritual a reasons. Actually, I come out the whole Sixties Jazz piano tradition -- Cecil Taylor, Andrew Hill, McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans, Paul Bley, Herbie Hancock. I try to synthesize all that and come to a Nineties -- or Twenty-first Century -- application of it.

SECONDS: You keep saying you play Jazz for spiritual reasons. Could you elaborate?

SHIPP: If you look at Sun Ra, for instance, there is a whole mythology behind his music. If you look at Coltrane, he was using music as a vehicle for spiritual transcendence. That tradition keeps going on with people like Pharaoh Sanders. I would say there's a spiritual hyperextension in my sound world. It has a mystical dread to it. I view music as a way to silence the mind to bring a person to a state of meditation. No matter how expansive and energetic my music sounds, what I'm actually trying to do is bring the mind to a point of silence.

SECONDS: What does the Jazz establishment think of you?

SHIPP: I think they're afraid of me. I'm actually starting to get accepted in that world, which I think has a lot to do with myself as a person. I know how to deal with these people now. Personally, I think the jazz establishment is doo doo, for lack of a better word. I hate it; my whole stance is against it but for me to survive as a Jazz musician I have to deal with them. The Jazz establishment as a whole has been weary of me but they can't deny me. When you read about Jazz, they always emphasize that it's important for an individual to have a voice on their instrument. Yet, to the jazz establishment that's the scariest thing.

SECONDS: It's been said your music is very demanding --

SHIPP: I play the way I do because that's the way I play. I don't know if it's demanding. If you can just get the rhythmic flow of it, then you hear the phrases and how they connect. You can dance with the phrases and get lost in the density. There's times I've walked into a book store and somebody was playing a CD of mine and I ran out, so maybe it is demanding. But it's more demanding than a Jackson Pollock painting. I look it at and get lost in the lines, how they intersect and weave, and I feel the density and kinetic force of it. That to me is not demanding in the intellectual sense.

SECONDS: What is the future of Jazz?

SHIPP: There's a Monk quote. When asked where he thought Jazz was going he said, "I don't know. Maybe it'll go to Hell." I'm just trying to make a living doing what I do. I can't predict where things are going to go.

Very few people are playing acoustic music these days but I think there'll always be an audience for it. With that in mind, I think there is a future for Jazz. My bassist William Parker told me the whole Wynton Marsalis thing is going to have its life and then we're going to have our life and then when that's over Jazz is finished. [laughs] I tend to think people will always have a need to hear a human being making patterns with his fingers on wood and strings.

SECONDS: How will Electronica affect the piano?

SHIPP: The only effect is that maybe less people will start out playing acoustic instruments, which I think is a shame. I have nothing against Electronic Music; the only reason I don't play it is because I don't have an affinity for it. I tell people I don't play synthesizer because my sense of electronics is so bad I have trouble turning my light switch on. When I was a kid, I read Keyboard magazine and they always seemed to have a balance of articles between people that played acoustic instruments and electronic instruments. Now it seems one hundred percent electronic. I'd like people to listen to both.

SECONDS: What aspect of your music is cerebral?

SHIPP: I play piano with every aspect of my intellect involved. Intellect is necessary for what I do but it's a spiritual thing too. Even the spiritual aspect has a cerebral aspect because my whole sense of spirituality deals with the mind. The brain is a physical thing encased in your head but the mind is apart from that. My mathematical sense of phrasing comes from the energy and rhythm generated by the brain. I play music with my brain, my heart and my dick. It's all intertwined. There's very much a cerebral aspect to what I do but I consider the major part of my music a dance phenomena. Maybe it's for epileptics to dance to, [laughs] but I could see a breakdancer dancing to my music ...

SECONDS: What do you want people to know about Matthew Shipp?

SHIPP: I'm obsessed with the idea of music as language. I approach music in the African sense, as far as drums as language and transmitting discursive symbols through the use of an instrument. I use music as a laboratory for exploring what language is.

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