Matthew Shipp: Two New Albums

Two new albums that feature Matthew Shipp bring home the pianist’s importance on the New York jazz scene; the first is a solo piano album with the title Codebreaker, the second is a trio led by drummer Whit Dickey on which Shipp is heavily featured along with bass player William Parker. This Cd has the title Village Mothership; both this and Codebreaker are on the Tao Forms label, an adventurous label in New York that has Whit Dickey as its Artistic Director and the agency AUM Fidelity as its management.

Shipp’s music is usually classified as avant-garde and mention is made of the influence of Cecil Taylor, but Shipp himself does not see it that way. He prefers to acknowledge an influence from Bud Powell, the pianist who adapted the innovations of Parker and Gillespie to the piano. Furthermore, in discussing his latest solo piano album, he hears an aspect of his own playing that links Powell’s playing to that of Bill Evans. He regards Bill Evans as a pianist influenced by Bud Powell and asserts that he, Bud Powell and Bill Evans all fit together.

This respect for earlier traditions seems characteristic of many who are generally regarded as belonging to the avant-garde. William Parker, for example, has a deep respect for the tradition of black American music, and has often presented his interpretation of the music of Curtis Mayfield. Both Shipp and Parker were members of the iconic David S Ware Quartet that acknowledged the influence of Sonny Rollins as well as that of late Coltrane. I see this particular group of musicians associated with the annual Vision Festival in New York as essentially continuing the tradition of Ornette Coleman who after all wrote great tunes and incorprated elements of the blues into his free playing. Downbeat has described Shipp as’ the connection between the past, present and future for jazz heads of all ages’ (cited in

The influence of Bud Powell and Bill Evans on Codebreaker is immediately apparent; the music is much more introspective and contemplative than Shipp’s earlier solo albums. Shipp has admitted that when he listened back to the recording he was surprised and even shocked at how introspective the album was. This is not to imply that the music is gentle and minimalist; it is rich harmonically which creates an air of both eloquence and mystery to the music. There are 11 tracks, all quite short from 2.19 mins to 5.12 with most about the 3 minute mark. The overall mood is quite similar, but each track has its own character. In the interview cited above Shipp talks of his love of Bach’s music saying ‘there is a ton of Bach in me – I greatly admire Glenn Gould, so I spent countless hours playing and listening to Bach growing up. I don’t think it is too far-fetched to suggest that there is something of Bach in the elegance and coherence of these solo pieces.

The album will be released on the Tao Forms label on November 5th this year.

The Matthew Shipp we hear on Village Mothership, also on the Tao Forms label is very different. The date is Whit Dickey’s and he leads from the drums a trio with William Parker on double bass and Shipp on piano. It’s the trio that recorded Shipp’s first album, Circular Temple, in 1990 not long after he arrived in New York seeking to play with William Parker. The trio also played in the David S Ware Quartet for many years. Village Mothership is their first studio album together as a trio since Circular Temple.

In this context of three improvising musicians who know each other’s playing well, it is unsurprising that Shipp’s playing on this album is much more upbeat. The elegance and coherence are still very much there, but there is a flow and drama to his playing. It’s a great trio of equals, and Dickey, Shipp and Parker brilliantly complement and add to each other’s playing.

The album has just been released, also on the Tao Forms label.

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