Matthew Shipp

Checking In With…Matthew Shipp
Thirsty Ear's Blue Series Continues with NU-BOP

By Paula Edelstein, Sounds of Timeless Jazz
One of avant-garde jazz’s biggest Series gets bigger in January 2002 with the release of Matthew Shipp’s latest recording for Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series. NU-BOP, a nine-song collection composed in its entirety by Shipp, is a vehicle for Shipp’s more rhythmic piano chops and the opportunity for him to launch his highly successful multiplayer role into the land of electronics.

The ever-expanding Shipp, one of jazz’s true young heroes, joins forces on this new musical landscape with Flam bringing synths and programming to the table, William Parker on bass, Daniel Carter on saxophone and flute, and Guillermo E. Brown on drums. Shipp’s approach is definitely new and for anyone who cares about the awesome concepts that emanated from such piano giants as Thelonious Monk, Ahmad Jamal, Ramsey Lewis and Herbie Hancock, then NU-BOP is a sure hang. Matt is highly representative but retains his inimitable style on this distinguished offering. The third time brings it all together with respect to Shipp’s contribution to the Blue Series. So for anyone longing for great avant-garde improvisations, add NU-BOP to your collection. We talked to Matthew Shipp about NU-BOP and the new decisions he made after winding up his West Coast tour with David S. Ware. Listen UP!

SOTJ: Hello Matt. Congratulations on NU-BOP. Your fans have been anticipating this, your third release in the Blue Series for Thirsty Ear. What led you to record with Flam on this recording?

MATT SHIPP: Well Flam is a dear friend of mine and for a long time, I kind of wanted to explore something more in line with a rhythmic--I don’t want to call it a pop based project because it’s definitely jazz--but I wanted to explore something of this sort for quite a while . So I felt the time was right.

SOTJ: Did you also want to expand on the concept that Spring Heel Jack and The Blue Series Continuum began on MASSES or was it back to life’s adventures and addressing other things after your West Coast debut with David S. Ware?

MATT SHIPP: Well Spring Heel Jack actually did have something to do with how I came about doing this project because mainly when we decided to do that project, I kind of thought they were going to do more beat-oriented stuff and they ended up doing a lot of abstract rhythmic landscapes. That was a lot of fun and it was great to be involved with it but I kind of left with a taste in my mouth for a more rhythmic, beat-oriented project. So since they didn’t really go down that path, I decided to try to go down that path myself.

SOTJ: That’s cool! Was it hard to step away from The Blue Series to do your gig with David S. Ware?

MATT SHIPP: Oh no because playing David is a big part of my whole thing. So, of the whole whatever makes Matt Shipp, Matt Shipp, playing with David Ware is part of it. So, that’s an ongoing thing in my life.

SOTJ: It was in step! Another jazz step so to speak.(smile)

MATT SHIPP: Yeah. It’s like having a couple of kids and one has a soccer game and the other has a basketball game, you just have to do what you have to do!

SOTJ: Yes, you just have to make that time! Nine originals comprise NU-BOP and I noticed you’re using all the trippy, psychedelic, Zen-like sonic effects with a bebop environmental intensity at times that make the title track, Nu-Bop, feel really cerebral. But then the saxophone riffs from Daniel Carter and Guillermo E. Brown’s drumming temper its head-music aspect with some unexpected emotional twists. I thought that was a real nice touch.

MATT SHIPP: I guess I can’t help but be heady! That’s kind of my nature. I think it’s a specific type of thought and it’s going to follow anything I do around. I did kind of want a situation where people in some parts of it, could just feel with their body without the usual thing I carry around. Which is great for what it is. There’s other ways to feel music without having to delve deep down into your soul all of the time.

SOTJ: Introspection is the focus on ZX-1” with your low-key, yet precise, intensity. What was the inspiration for this piece?

MATT SHIPP: That’s a very interesting question because: (A). I was just trying to break up the CD as far as what is being presented. I just wanted something that would set up the rest of the CD but would be a second to take a breath. (B) I wanted to kind of have a piece that has some continuation of the feel of my last CD -- NEW ORBIT –- in that it was spacious and had kind of a meditative, introspective sound. I definitely wanted a piece that somehow made reference to NEW ORBIT without the theme. (C) I wanted to have something that had some type of slow linear motion that-- even though I never resorted to the aspects of Thelonious Monk that are an influence on me; never overtly like playing a Monk riff or line--I wanted a slow moving linear piece that kind of had some type of abstraction on how Monk actually influenced me and would be apparent through the note choices. So those things 3 things working together all added up to creating that piece.

SOTJ: “Space Shipp.” “Rocket Shipp;” are really cool uses of metaphor for self-expression. The key word here is that you “ take flight” with some awesome piano chops that lift on your solos, and glimmer with raw greatness. Flam is unabashed and William Parker is holding down some great bass logic. Did you lay this down in the studio together or was it mixed later?

MATT SHIPP: (Laughs) A lot of stuff happened on this CD! Let’s just say I came into the studio with a huge outline. I wanted things to go a very specific way and we pretty much went by the outline. I had some rhythm tracks that Flam had generated and brought into the studio on the computer and those were played in the studio. We played over them but I had very specific ideas of what I wanted people’s parts to be even though they were given a lot of room to improvise. The character and the thrust of it were definitely pre-determined and everything, you know. But then sometimes, just talking in the studio, things mutated from the original plan that I brought in and people were like…there were things that I didn’t want a bass line on and people were like, “why don’t we put a bass line on this, etc.” So after we had recorded the track, we would overdub a bass part and would change the whole thing around and it was better! Once that was all done, the basic CD was done in the studio, but during the mixing and the editing and all that, we did other huge twists to it. For example one part was brought up pretty loud that was originally a background part. That part became the head…tricks like that. But on one level things stayed pretty much to the original outline.

SOTJ: You mentioned that Monk had a great influence on you musically. Are there poets or other visual improvisationalists that have influenced you as well?

MATT SHIPP: Oh yes, yes. Poets? Millions of them. Well King David for sure!

SOTJ: The Book of Psalms?

MATT SHIPP: The Psalms definitely have a lush, pastoral cosmic optimism. The Book of John has kind of an apocalypse language in the Book of Revelation…William Blake, Walt Whitman. As far as visual improvisationalists, Jackson Pollack, Mark Roscoe’s huge chromatic color fields. Basquiat is someone I really, really admire. When I moved to New York, I was hanging with his crowd. He was a real heavy cat.

SOTJ:Wow! His works certainly are. Is NU-BOP the culmination of the Blue Series or will the Series continue throughout 2002 with additional releases?

MATT SHIPP: The Series will continue. We're planning a lot.

SOTJ: Will you get to tour America this year with your ensemble?

MATT SHIPP: I’m going to be touring a lot this year with my trio, Gerald Cleaver and William Parker and also doing a lot of duos with William.

SOTJ: What do you feel is the one record that underscores your ambition at this point in your career?

MATT SHIPP: Right now, what I’m doing at this moment, and that is NU-BOP. Also, I’m looking at my three Blue Series as a piece because on PASTORAL COMPOSURE I’m dealing with its various elements of straight ahead jazz; on NEW ORBIT, I’m dealing with the kind of ambient, spiritual feel of open spaces and melodic form; and on NU-BOP I’m dealing with more of a rhythmic base that gives me a chance to stretch out with my chops with the whole type of Ahmad Jamal, Ramsey Lewis, Herbie Hancock continuum. Albeit in my own way, it gives me a chance to kind of play around with that idea.

SOTJ: Well Matt those three are definitely something that have come full circle for you. The Blue Series is definitely a lifestyle and it’s happening. Thanks so much for laying it on the world. You’ve made a very organic selection of artists – Mat Maneri, William Parker, Tim Berne, Spring Heel Jack, Craig Taborn, Roy Campbell - to assist with the fulfillment of your artistic vision and you all are to be commended for stepping up to the plate and delivering. The entire Blue Series to date is excellent.

MATT SHIPP: Thank you.

SOTJ: Thank you for the interview and we’re looking forward to the release of NU-BOP in January. Keep in touch with Matthew Shipp at

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