Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Happy Birthday Matthew Shipp.

Matthew meets his half decade today in his prime and fully immersed in Dionysian musings shaped by Apollonian sensibilities. It's quite a feat.

It turns on his use of the most basic primal song forms, the first ones most people here were exposed to... Frere Jacques, etc. The melody kernel that the "The New Fact" grows from is like some echo of Joshua, of Jericho fame in more stark and thus striking offspring and "3 in 1" might be a reshaped hologram of 'Rock a Bye Baby', one of those odd sinister children's songs with its soothing melody.I realized this connects with the primal right away, whether a listener consciously notices. 

If you think about it, song making is probably a basic thing humans do and until the 20th century, songs were rarely that important. Schubert had his art songs as did others and every peasant and goatherd the world over makes up songs as do children. The oldest known song is said to be something used by Nile water bearers as a rhythm to operate their simple water bucket hoists.

And these songs that once just grew often became the soil for Symphonic music, especially in the late 19th century when every country had a composer who rummaged around the local songs, Greig, Bartok, dozens of Russians, Brahms and so on all turned these found root melodies into big ambitious works.

Now they become slices of sonic dna to recombine on the fly of pianistics at a moments notice. I haven't given the time a two disc set wants for detailed description but I'm confident there will be plenty from many more skillful than I am. I like the sound of the audience in Troy at the end. There are a lot of hands in a clamor and voices rise enthused.

1. How has this year treated you compared with last year?

"I get up each day and do what the day puts before me so don’t know how the year has treated me-I know I have treated myself well by staying productive---and I really feel blessed to have good friends in the music who have been colleagues for years and years and my bond with them grows even if we don’t play for a year or so."

2. What have been some of the highlights? 

"Well without thinking I would say the duo tour with Mr Sabir MateenSabir is a unique and is always fun to be around apart from being a mother you know what on his axes.

Playing with my trio with Whit Dickey and the great Mike Bisio has been a blessing and a tour I did with the Ivo Perelman quartet with Ivo, me, Joe Morris and Gerald Cleaver, also a duo tour Joe Morris and I did in Poland was a blast, music wise."

These efforts were lauded in Brazil...

"We will seldom get the chance again to see—on a cold Thursday night—someone like Matthew Shipp displaying his fine artistry. Shipp is the most important name in contemporary piano playing. He has entered the pantheon inhabited by Monk and Cecil Taylor. Listening to Shipp—and watching him—makes you realize that great music doesn't need comparisons such as "he plays like Coltrane" or "he plays like Miles.” With delicate melodic fragments rising over the force of his hammering left hand, Shipp forges his own path, his own course independent of affiliations."

And in Russia.

"Before talking about the concert, it makes sense to say a few words about the last mentioned album. For those who missed this performance and wanted to get an idea of how Shipp plays nowadays, I would recommend to listen to «Night Logic». First, simply because it is the very fresh recording (the album was recorded in late July this year). 

Secondly, on this record Shipp is in the same musical environment - the instrumental trio of Moscow concert approximately repeats the one that can be heard on «Night Logic». On the album Matthew plays with Morris and the veteran of Sun Ra cosmic orchestras, Marshall Allen (alto saxophone, flute and EWI - electronic wind instrument). And anyway, it’s a standout album. When you have an opportunity - listen to it!

Finally, let’s talk about the concert. Shipp was an absolute leader. In the absence of a drummer he was the one who dictated the tempo of trio’s playing. This was definitely a journey of Matthew with Letov and Morris following him. Shipp led the way changing directions and mood, setting the intensity of playing. His music was violent, unstable and at the same time plastic and dainty.

Shipp was constantly searching, not staying with one idea for a long time. His improvisation was a kaleidoscope of changing, slightly defined themes. Developing a phrase with his left hand, Matthew put an accent in the upper register with his right hand (as a comma), and then formulated a new phrase or modified the same one in the way it would take him in another direction. Sometimes he picked up a piece of music, as a piece of puzzle, and moved forward building on it.

It seemed like Matthew was making his way with physical efforts. Perhaps the impression was created by Shipp’s motions while playing. Knowing about his repeated confessions in his love of boxing, it was difficult to escape the feeling of watching some kind of fight. He hit the keyboard with strength of the whole body, a single high note began somewhere in the arm, and so on. Moreover such "hitting" technique was used not only for loud, intense moments, the struggle continued even during the lightest passages where slight accents of his right hand were placed with sliding on a key.

Amazing how physical side of Shipp’s playing combined with its intellectual nature. An important component of Shipp’s philosophy linked to the exact sciences, formulas and mathematical aspects of music. Improvising he resembled both a boxer trying new combinations to break an enemy and a mathematician obsessed with going from one formula to another to prove a theorem.

Emotional and sensual aspects of jazz combine with European dramatic effects in Shipp’s music - it was often heard in Matthew’s playing chords or putting accents. A monotonic chords pulsation often used by the pianist obviously referred to American minimalism of 50s as well as repetitions of riffs and quiet sparse notes following the most intense moments of improvisation."

3. Has the situation for performing in the US improved or is it still hampered by NPR Nepotism, Gen X curator Narcissism and Uncle Tupelo glorification? 

"Well in the 90s it seemed that things could change when we where on a kind of punk touring route but things never made that breakthrough for usa touring that it seemed was a possibility—the problems in all this are so deep and overwhelming I don’t know where to start as far as breaking it down into discourse as to what the problems are and what the solutions might be—lets just say  between europe and usa and elsewhere you try to keep a continuum of stuff going to stay busy."

4. How has Music Piracy impacted your recording sales?

"What do you think?" ( I imagine it utterly sux.)

5. What are your performance plans for the coming year, more solo focus? Ensemble options? 

"Well my upcoming cd-a 2 cd live set called ‘’art of the improviser’’ has one side solo and one side trio, and I want to concentrate on both of those formats in the next year for that is where my music is and also of course I want to promote the cd. This trio is really growing into something else and I want to keep developing in this format plus my solo playing is growing at the roots and extremities. Other than that I don’t know. I  do not have much interest in quartets these days."

6. Are you seeing more opportunities for artist residencies?

"I have 2 residencies this year, but do not consider myself an educator-even though I have students, it's not my main focus. However, it should be fun to have some extended classroom time. I will try to present the essence of who I am in a way that will inspire others to come up with their own ideas. Maybe any part or fragment of what I can say or do can be a tool for someone else to build their own house."

7. What do you make of turning 50?

"I don’t make anything of it. I am the same yesterday  and today and yet completely different yesterday and today.I do not feel washed up as a jazz musician and I do not feel cynical about the playing-I do about the business but I feel fresh as a player and person  as if whatever language I have inside me keeps me young, Marian McPartland actually said that about me to someone--— and I don’t have that aged hardened bourgeois look that Wynton has in his stupid face—it must be hard to keep up that level of pretense."

8. What was the reason for selecting the live performance in Troy as the music for The Art of The Improviser?

"We got a good tape of it and it represented the trio in the way we want it to be represented. Really no cosmic or occult numbers except those pragmatic things. I will be on road a good deal with this trio and really look forward to developing the music more. I feel very strong about the trio and know my mates are willing to make a commitment to fully concentrate on taking the music wherever the music allows us to take it. 

Oh and by the way as far as 2010 goes a lot of media attention I got centered around my polemic against Hancock in jazz times earlier this year.Well this year he came out with an almost universally panned horrific cd, despite the fact that it is grammy nominated and downbeat liked it, no surprise there,they have to hold up that paradigm and I heard him a couple of times over the years going through the motions, in my opinion with his cynical jazz festival filler material and feel completely justified in what I said as far as I was using what he has been doing to paint a picture of a cynical corpse-being the dying jazz business." 

A slice of controversy side dish served for the teapot tempest from the ever embarrassing and dwindling New York media cohort stuck in regaling it's bygone days like some pot bellied wash-up at a barbecue reliving high school football glory days decades later. They yet cling to tinsel illusions of clout even as the evidence suggests the end of the line is near. Beyond New York the controversy is shrugged off in favor a look at what Matthew actually does.  The examples from Brazil and Russia above attest to a happy obliviousness to it all and when Art of the Improviser is released there will be a useful and edifying array of descriptions from Ms HortonJustinStef and Richard Kamins.

This will be a tough year for the old strategy of plugging the branded icons. It works for pop but jazz more often does numbers across its time swath. The money wasted on pretending that 'stars' still do workable numbers should have been spent on better SEO for the entire catalog or attending to ways to boost search page ranking. Matthew is finding his way. Max and Bobby have a lot in common besides presenting him in Vilnius and DC. More people like that are showing up while stalwarts like Dan Melnick in Chicago and John Gilbreath in Seattle ever improve their game. Timing the bloat implosion is never easy or sure but the wheezing increases with each year and the star making machinery is grinding its gears and running out of gas. It's abandonment is a precondition to future viability.