A brief conversation with underground jazz piano great Matthew Shipp
Over the last four decades, pianist Matthew Shipp has been steadily building a catalog of countless exemplary jazz recordings spanning the entire scope of the genre’s sonic threshold. But it is when he is in the trio format does the pianist truly flourish as a creative force of nature. On Signature, Shipp convenes with longtime bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor-Baker to deliver one of his most stirring programs yet. Expertly produced by ESP-Disk torchbearer Steve Holtje, it was recorded last summer in a series of first takes at one of the pianist’s favorite venues, Park West Studio, and truly encapsulates not only the adventure but the beauty of his distinctive playing.
“The piano trio is such a basic configuration in jazz,” Shipp said in a prepared statement. “And it is an honor to take a well-explored area and apply my imagination to it to see where we can go — it helps that my trio mates are great.”
The Rock & Roll Globe was able to connect with Shipp over email, where he endured our erratic line of questioning with the blunt grace of his magnificent skills on the 88 keys.
Signature is available now through Forced Exposure.
What inspired the title of the album, Signature? In what context of the word are you coming from?
I was just thinking we all have unique imprints and the more deeper you get into this the more deeper you want to fund the core and basic essence of yourself—so it’s a process of trying to uncover the original face as they call it in zen-peel all the layers off and find your own natural fingerprint.
Like Sonic Fiction before it, Signature has allusions to space and sci-fi with titles like “Flying Saucer” and “This Matrix”. What is it about these topics that inspire your music?
I see UFOs as a part of the structure of the human psyche—sort of like infinity is out here and whenever infinity imposes itself on the finite it takes the form of structures from the other— the human can never take in the whole- but as parts of’’ all that is’’ come in it has to take the form as something alien –this has been explored by Jung in his book on UFO’s and the best exploration of this is actual sci-fi is a book called ‘’miracle visitors;’’ by UK sci-fi writer Ian Watson.
I’m reading a lot of the press about Signature and the fact you were considering retirement in the late 90s. Yet you’ve maintained as steady an output of recorded music as anyone since then. What made you change your mind and what is it that keeps you working?
I have to keep working—what else am I going to do? This is what I do—I have the format to keep documenting my work and people seem to want to hear what I am up to.
Speaking of which, I just got Strings 4 in the mail today. What could you tell me about this album? How does it fit in your ongoing creative journey with Ivo Perelman?
This was a tremendous chamber project. Nate Wolley and Mat Maneri were perfect musicians for this one. The duos I do with Ivo, however, are my favorite projects with him. But Strings 4 is definitely the most developed beyond those.
What else do you have ahead in terms of recorded work in 2019?
As far as domestically, Signature is the event of the year. I do have a few
that will be floating around from the French label Rogue Art— a duo with Rob Brown, a trio with John Buicher and Thomas Lehn on laptop and a duo with Evan Parker.
It’s ECM’s 50th anniversary this year. What are your thoughts on the label and beyond Keith Jarrett and Chick, are there any other pianists who’ve recorded for the label that you most appreciate? Do you have a favorite ECM album?
First of all I hate Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea— that is my thing—I know they have a lot of fans but that is the tact I decided to take because of the way the jazz business is structured — I could talk about that for hours and is for another conversation but anyway as far as ECM goes my thoughts on the record label is that it is a record label—obviously there are some great albums on the label but Manfred Eicher—who owns the label is also caught up in his own mythology which makes for some ECM wallpaper that is more a reflection of what some musicians think Manford wants to hear then an original vision—but hey there are a a lot of albums on ECM and some are great—like any label that’s been around a while. As far as pianists on the label, well, Paul Bley has recorded for them and Paul Bley IMO has way more weight than Keith Jarrett, especially considering the whole Jarrett Trio idea comes out of Bley, IMO. Bley is one of the real masters of modern music. He was ahead of his time in every way—but recently I’ve been really taken by Marc Copland—don’t think he has a CD as a leader on ECM, but he has played with John Abercrombie and Gary Peacock. Marc has mined a vision and a style that is unique-deep and an organic growth of a long contemplated vision—he is very special — and there is also Bobo Stenson, who is brilliant.
I’ve been personally been listening to a lot of jazz from the 40s and 50s lately. The Norman Granz era….what are some piano trio or small band recordings you enjoy from that time?
Other than recording lets just say I am glad all this music exists—its documented because it has meant a lot to people as far a art that keeps their spirits on the up and up. All Bud Powell is food for me—all Monk is food for me—Bill Evans is food—Andrew Hill and Paul Bley are food though from a later period—don’t sleep on The Legendary Hassan—that is a great trio recording.