by carl wilson

Shipp Shape (Plus: From the Cutting Room Floor)


I didn't make it to Arraymusic for the second Shipp show today (had a little too much Bad Band Revolution in my system), and would love to hear reports from anyone who did. Last night's Music Gallery show had its ups and downs. The main set, one long improvisation drawing on material from One and earlier work, was very fine but lacked the heat-spark of his best. I always question the wisdom of the single-piece concert: In my experience, improvisers tend to get better from one number to another in a live setting; even a momentary pause to begin another piece allows that little intake of breath that recalls the literal meaning of "inspiration," which can raise the performance to a new level. Otherwise it's like running a marathon from a standing start. The proof was in the encore, which I found much more engrossing and emotionally engaged, setting off a cinematic montage of mental imagery. ... And you?

Some outtakes from my interview with Matt this week can be found on the jump.

Matthew Shipp outtakes

How much are the pieces on the album composed and how much improvised?

Let's just say that there was a certain mindset that i wanted to capture in the studio and I practiced a long time before going in to attain that mindset. Probably four cuts had heads, like a jazz lead sheet, that were composed that way. The rest were kind of conceptual. ... but a way of approaching concepts for pieces - this is something I have been developing for a long time.

Does it relate at all to wanting to take a break from the electronic settings of the Blue Series?

Well, I did three albums that way as a leader, and I kind of think in trilogies, so that phase has probably come to an end, still doing some concerts occasionally. I'm doing a tour with Guillermo [E. Brown] where he's playing laptop. I don't want to say 'take a break' - I think I'm just going into a different mindset.

Did doing that work have an effect on your piano playing?

I do think it altered my sense of playing and spacing, but I can't put my hand on it exactly.

Have the reactions to the series been sharply divided?

I found an audience for it. So it worked for me. It worked for the audience that I found for it. There was actually a lot less resistance than I expected. A lot of people were able to go with me, or say, "Well, it's just him doing that." I didn't get a lot of outright attacks - well, I did get some and i'm sure you've seen some. With some people, I guess they felt it was a licence to pick up on me. It opened up a way.... But I had to be free to explore things. If I can't, you know, what is this?

But you're going to go on curating the series?

Yeah, I'll definitely keep on curating it. I think it is moving in a different direction. I'm really into this whole idea of developing a "jazz ambient music." If you know my album New Orbit, you'll have some idea of what I mean - something that's melodic, but in a totally different way than early ECM albums or whatever. So I think some of the projects will have to do with that. And also some jazz and classical elements. It's not all up to me - we sign people and they do whatever they do. But it seems certain things are going that way. But there's also a Beans project with William Parker and Hamid Drake, and then a blues-R&B; project with Carl Hancock Rux that I'm really excited about - that's really new for us.

What influence do you think it's had?

It seemed the right thing to do at the time. I think it had an impact. And not just because we were doing it: There are a lot of other scenes too. In Poland I heard a lot of local recordings of people doing - it seemed like it was something in the air. There was a pretty decent audience for my electronic recordings over there. But it's not all down to me. It does seem like it was something that will continue to be explored.

Is there a challenge to sustaining solo live performances, night after night, to keep up a level of inspiration?

Not if I do it this way: If I were doing it five or six nights a week, that would be physically, spiritually and mentally exhausting. But doing it this way, on weekends, actually I see an evolution in the performance, little atoms I develop this week that I take somewhere else next week. ... I want to keep touring till I've played everywhere. If it keeps working out with this album i won't make another album as a leader.

Do you find your classical background emerges more in this less rhythm-driven setting?

I think that's unavoidable on solo piano, with the history of the piano, even the history of jazz solo piano. What you have to look at is what was done in solo piano in the 70s, whether you like it or not - Keith Jarrett, that Cecil Taylor series of solo albums - so there' s a modern solo piano jazz tradition. I think when you play solo piano your classical roots if you have any are bound to come out. For me, it's Charles Ives, Debussy, Ravel, Schoenberg's piano works, Webern, Morton Feldman, Cage's prepared piano, some Boulez - the spirit of a lot of things more than the actual sound....

This album particularly seems to work with long lines, extended structures within relatively short pieces, and I wondered if there was a particular intention to that.

Obviously I don't want to be seen as just a free-jazz player, but that's the tradition that I come out of. I would say that my use of extended techniques in solo performance and the concentration of it is not unlike what Evan Parker is into. Evan's great and he's doing what he does, but Roscoe Mitchell has been doing solo pieces on soprano and alto for years and years. I don't think you could just pigeonhole what he does as just free jazz. It's Roscoe Mitchell music. Both of them, within their sax improvisations, they don't bring in as many of the classical overtones, though Roscoe does in his chamber ensemble pieces. But that's the piano. The extended techniques are there because obviously Coltrane's what i come out of.

Something about One also reminds me of early Anthony Braxton.

Yeah, I would also put him in there. I saw a solo concert he did 12 or 14 years ago, I don't pay attention as much to the recent stuff. I haven't heard On Alto for years and years and years, but i really admire what he used to do in that setting. There's also Abdul Wadud, somebody who doesn't get talked about so much. With Anthony, there's kind of a freedom to his persona that I really like - you know what I mean.

With Jason Moran, and Brad Mehldau, Vijay Iyer, you and a few others, it seems like there's a return to piano as a prominent force in jazz in the 21st century. Is this coincidence or do you think there's a reason for it?

I have no idea. That article needs to be written in Time magazine - it was written in Newsweek, but... For a long time pinao wasn't used so much in this particular side of the music. There's a lot of pianists like Mulgrew Miller - they're there and they made an impact. I don't know, I have to sit down and think about that. So far as lettting stars happen on the instrument, that might be happening again. I guess my take on that would be in the 60s and early 70s a lot of stars were groomed on the isntrument - Jarrett, Herbie Hancock - and then there you had disparate voices in the Sixties like Paul Bley and McCoy [Tyner] obviously. Then other people like Andrew Hill, who didn't have quite the name. Then I guess in the mid-70s they figured it was enough.

Perhaps it's gotten to the point where it has a certain exoticism, even - it's less of a staple in the home, and that kind of things.

Maybe so - you know, now everybody's playing electronics so maybe hearing somebody playing an acoustic instrument makes you freak.

I read an interview where you said that you didn't think the word jazz was positioned to have meaning at the present moment. What do you think the reasons for that are?

I'll take a line from somebody who was criticizing the Blue Series: They said everything "seemed jazzy without being jazz." That was the, what do you call it, the Paris Transatlantic. I don't know. I guess at one point real hardcore jazz is just - there's a lot of reasons - from the deterioriation of the music as a part of the black community, that deterioration process started with bebop, that blacks don't support jazz - that's problematic for performers who are Afro-American. And then, I don't know, I just feel that it's all corporate now. For anything to survive outside of that, it's a struggle and then you become wrapped up in the struggle and that becomes the story. There's strength to be gained from that. There' s a part of me that never wants to be embraced by the establishment, but I do want more institutional support. The people who do get it, I'm never into what they're doing. You probably know the names. Even with these types of music - I'm not a big fan of what dave holland does these days, but he gets the institutional support of the jazz community per se. I'm not trying to put him down - he's had a long distinguished career, with lots of great things, but what he's up to now... well.

Isn't it also that the word "jazz" has been coopted by the neoconservative movement. The language is historicized so thoroughly, that it's difficult to work with, if you're trying to make a truly contemporary music.

Well, yeah, I didn't want to get into it, but that's the crux of the matter. It's difficult. I read things by Wynton Marsalis - and even him, you feel like it's a burden on him to have to be a "jazz musican." I've talked to Branford Marsalis about it - someone I love because of his music - and he's like, "Oh, wow, jazz? Nobody's interested in this society."

What are your plans after this record and tour?

There are some things. I'm doing a new age album, actually. Peter Gordon is producing it, with Zeena Parkins and William Parker and myself. We call it "free zen." It's already done.

What do you mean when you say "new age," exactly?

You know, something you can hear in a New Age bookstore - most of it wouldn't be out of place, seriously! But it's our take on it.

Read More | | Posted by zoilus on Sunday, March 05 at 07:56 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)



The afternoon show was a lot like how you described the Music Gallery one. Shipp played just one very long piece (though to my ears it was a long imporvisation with two distinct parts) and then one, very good and very short encore. I'm not going to pretend that I understood everything he did because his show was operating at times on such a different level, emotionally and intellectually draining really, but, to me, Shipp was trying (successively and unsuccessively) to cross a more (post?) modernist "classical" tradition and post-Cecil jazz. The show I think roughly started in the more classical idiom and then shifted to a more jazz inflected one. It was in this shift, I think, that Shipp picked up a lot of people's attention though the first half hour might have turned off many people who were there.

The solo piano set-up (instead of say a trio) allowed Shipp a lot of room for himself. the person I went with said that Shipp was undisciplined in his use of this freedom i.e. he went too free and got away from his playing at times. I don't know if I agree with this but it is an interesting notion to ponder.

Also, thanks for the outtakes, that was great. Have you heard the new Andrew Hill? It's actually quite good.

I'll have more on this when I fully recover from CMW.

Posted by Graham on March 6, 2006 08:16 AM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson