by carl wilson

The Crystal Shipp


Tonight at the Music Gallery and tomorrow afternoon at Arrayspace, a rare visit from one of my favourite living jazz musicians, New York pianist Matthew Shipp, collaborator with DJ Spooky, David S. Ware, William Parker, the Anti-Pop Consortium and many others, curator of the Blue Series, but more vitally an extraordinary rider of the keyboard-as-rocket-shipp. I have a profile and interview with Shipp today - about his new disc One and his current (and perhaps perpetual, he says) solo tour - in The Globe and Mail, aptly titled, "Future jazz for solo piano," which you can read on the jump. There were some nice sections in that interview I didn't get to use in the piece, and I'll post them later in the weekend.

Also, I was stunned by how many people wrote volunteering to help out on the site. Thanks to you all. I'll get back to everyone by Monday.

Future jazz for solo piano

Matthew Shipp strings together a century of musical styles with ease, CARL WILSON writes

In his film The Five Obstructions, Danish director Lars von Trier dares an older peer to make a series of movies based on rules he imposes: One must be made of very short shots, another in "the most horrible place on Earth," another as a cartoon. When he thinks his foil has cheated, von Trier penalizes him with the most torturous challenge he can muster: No rules. No guidelines. Total freedom. The result is the worst film in the lot.

A not-dissimilar provocation led to One, the new album by New York-based jazz pianist Matthew Shipp, who comes to Toronto this weekend.

At a time when he'd played in every possible setting, with squealing saxophones or skittering violins as well as DJs, drum machines and even rappers - and was eager to record with his then-"hot" acoustic trio - the owner of his record label heard Shipp play solo at an awards ceremony and urged him to make his next record that way: On his own. Total freedom.

"He felt I should really bring pressure to bear," says Shipp, hoarse from a cold, on the phone from New York, "It would force people to deal with my vocabulary on the instrument directly . . . because that's all there'd be."

Yet Shipp's response was a revelation, a 40-minute kaleidoscope of a century of piano styles strung together as naturally as a sigh.

Now in his mid-40s, Shipp is a beacon for younger musicians seeking the outer limits, not all of them jazz buffs. You are as likely to find some of the 26 discs under his name and dozens more with other groups in shops that stock techno or indie rock. Experimental-rock audiences picked up on Shipp's chunky, dissonant improvisations in the 1980s and 1990s. He had the austere look of a monk, or a ninja, to match his music's quantum-math complications. Unlike a lot of "free" jazz, Shipp's music wasn't so much a stream of emotion as a spiral drilling simultaneously into sediment and stratosphere.

Yet he played like an athlete. His shoulders bobbed like a boxer's (he's a big fight fan). He covered the 88-key range like radar sweeping the territory, with close attention to suspicious goings-on in the bass registers, where alien entities might most likely be found. Younger listeners disillusioned with punk rock were attracted to another path of musical extremes.

Next, as curator of the Thirsty Ear label's Blue Series in the past five years, Shipp became a pioneer in "jazztronica," mixing and matching DJs, industrial-beat mongers, laptop-computer musicians and rappers with the most stubbornly abstract acoustic jazz, perhaps most ravishingly on his own 2004 disc, Harmony and Abyss.

These projects have drawn predictable bile from purists, but much more praise. They've provoked visions of a future jazz that might reconnect with its roots in popular black dance music without requiring a neo-conservative retreat into swing.

After all that, Shipp relished the chance to strip down. "Solo, I can go where my whims take me in a really organic way," he says. "With a group, it's maybe 60 per cent, since I have to respond to what's going on. Alone, it is a placement in space, a certain way I can breathe, that I think is unique."

Indeed, the dozen pieces that form One can be heard as a continuous statement instead of 12 units of two to four minutes. "I'm dealing with minuets, miniatures, little atomic structures," Shipp says. "I'm trying to find little poetic worlds and put the extended techniques inside them."

With its integration of gospel and show tunes, Duke Ellington blues and Bud Powell bop with spiky atonal rows and funereal chord clusters out of Debussy, Schoenberg and Ives, One also suggests the unity of all musical means. "I'm fascinated by language and syntax, and that's what it all is to me," he says. "Hopefully, I digest it and make it a part of my body."

The disc has a measured maturity compared to Shipp's previous solo discs, such as Symbol Systems a decade ago. Rather than a mass of theory in twisting diagrams, these pieces are like long sentences out of Henry James, thoughts sustained over semicolons and commas and caesuras of musical grammar.

Shipp himself is so satisfied, he says, "If I had my way I'd continue touring behind this album forever and never make another."

It's a notion he's raised before - he loudly announced his "retirement" from the studio in 1999, but reconsidered when Thirsty Ear offered him the Blue Series. But it reflects a view of recording honestly different from the jazz impulse to "document" bands and performances.

"I don't want to have as many albums as [saxophonists] Anthony Braxton or David Murray. It's too much for people to deal with. It's too much for me to deal with. . . . For me, the recording process is not unlike the R&B; and rock I grew up with, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, which was all about concept albums. My hero was Stevie Wonder, with albums like Songs in the Key of Life. That's how I think."

While continuing the Blue Series and playing with other groups, he is heading to a different town on his own every weekend, from Toronto to Nashville. "I want to play every city in America, in old folks' homes and churches and galleries," he says.

With the significance of jazz as anything but a historical music so badly deteriorated today, Shipp sees the tour as secular evangelism. "If I'm seen as a 'crossover' artist, to me you can't get more crossover than playing solo piano. People have pianos in their homes. You think of solo piano, you think of Scott Joplin, Vladimir Horowitz, Rubenstein, even Elton John. That's why I want to get out and connect with people in small rooms."

Solo piano, he says, is "turn-of-the-century music" - and Matthew Shipp is more than ready for jazz to turn to face the next one.

Matthew Shipp performs tonight at 8 p.m., at the Music Gallery, St. George-the-Martyr Church, 197 John St., and tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. at Arraymusic Studio, 60 Atlantic Ave., Ste. 218.

Read More | | Posted by zoilus on Saturday, March 04 at 01:09 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


Zoilus by Carl Wilson