Matthew Shipp

***1/2Circular Temple (Infinite Zero/American, 1990)
***Critical Mass (213 CD, 1994)
**1/22-Z (Thirsty Ear, 1996)
****Zo (Thirsty Ear, 1997)
***Thesis (Hatology, 1997)
***1/2The Flow of X (Thirsty Ear, 1997)
***Strata (Hatology, 1997)
****The Multiplication Table (Hatology, 1998)
***Gravitational Systems (Hatology, 1998)
***1/2DNA (Thirsty Ear, 1999)
****Pastoral Composure (Thirsty Ear, 2000)
***1/2Matthew Shipp's New Orbit (Thirsty Ear, 2001)
****Expansion, Power, Release (Hatology, 2001)
****1/2Nu Bop (Thirsty Ear, 2002)
***1/2Songs (Splasch, 2002)
****1/2Equilibrium (Thirsty Ear, 2003)
***1/2Antipop Consortium Vs. Matthew Shipp (Thirsty Ear, 2003)
DJ Spooky:
****Optometry (Thirsty Ear, 2002)
****Dubtometry (Thirsty Ear, 2003)
DJ Wally:
****Nothing Stays the Same (Thirsty Ear, 2003)
The Blue Series Continuum:
***1/2The GoodandEvil Sessions (Thirsty Ear, 2003)
***1/2The Sorcerer Sessions (Thirsty Ear, 2003)

In jazz circles, Matthew Shipp is perhaps best known as the pianist in the David S. Ware Quartet. Ware plays raw, bracing tenor sax rooted in Sonny Rollins and Albert Ayler, but even more closely resembles something we might project out of the painful searching of John Coltrane's last works. But with Shipp and bass titan William Parker, the Ware Quartet is more than the sum of its parts, and albums like Earthquation (DIW, 1994), Godspellized (DIW, 1996), and Go See the World (Columbia, 1998) stand as landmarks of free jazz in the '90s.

Shipp also recorded frequently as the leader of small groups, where his distinctive piano -- think of a more muscular Monk and a more deliberate Powell exploring in depth terrain that Cecil Taylor first flew over -- engaged in intimate dialogue with other stalwart avant-gardists. The early series of albums is mostly of interest to specialists, although: Zo is a sparkling duo with Parker; The Multiplication Table, perhaps because it is a conventional piano trio, is a fine showcase for Shipp; and the albums with violinist Mat Manieri (The Flow of X, a quartet, and Expansion, Power, Release, a trio with William Parker on bass) suggest then transcend some form of quasiclassical chamber jazz.

But Shipp's career took a sharp turn in 1999 when he became Creative Director of Thirsty Ear's jazz line, "the blue series," which gave him carte blanche to explore the future of free jazz, but also put him on the hook to sell some records. Pastoral Composure was a quartet with Roy Campbell on trumpet, a more conventional lineup which picked up the rhythm and let Shipp play more percussively, bringing to the fore the heavy block chords and clusters that have long been his signature. On New Orbit Campbell was replaced by another trumpet player, Wadada Leo Smith, for a slower and more lyrical outing.

But Shipp was also producing other Thirsty Ear artists, and his work with Spring Heel Jack started to bring together elements of free jazz, DJ culture, and hip-hop in fruitful ways. On Nu Bop Shipp's acoustic free jazz group was joined by Chris Flam on synths and programming, setting up fast regular beats and brooding soundscapes. Equilibrium consolidates this progress, adding further rhythmic finesse with Khan Jamal's vibes. What made this something other than just another twist in the tangled web of fusion was attitude: Shipp's view of jazz was formed by growing up on punk, finding both to be what he calls "fuck you music." And under Shipp's direction, the Blue Series has exploded with similar experiments, including notable albums by jazz cohorts William Parker, Guillermo E. Brown, and Mat Manieri. Shipp's studio groups also form the sonic tapestrly for collaborations with assorted DJs, rappers, and studio wizards, under their own names or the default Blue Series Continuum. These range from the more abstract Sorcerer Sessions to furious romps like the DJ Wally -- or even heavier, the guest remixes of DJ Spooky's Optometry, dubbed Dubtometry.

Meanwhile, Shipp has also brought the muse back to Ware, playing synths instead of piano on Corridors & Parallels (Aum Fidelity, 2001), one of the Ware Quartet's most invigorating albums. Turns out that the age-old problem with fusion wasn't selling out. It was losing the will to say "fuck you" when it did.


Other albums:

Sonic Explorations (Cadence, 1987)
Points (Silkheart, 1990)
Prism (Hatology, 1993)
Before the World (FMP, 1995)
Symbol Systems (No More, 1995)
By the Law of Music (Hatology, 1996)
Magnetism (Bleuregard, 1999)
Rob Brown & Matthew Shipp:
Blink of an Eye (No More, 1997)
Ivo Perelman with Matthew Shipp:
***1/2Bendito of Santa Cruz (Cadence, 1996)
Andrew Barker, Matthew Shipp, Charles Waters:
****Apostolic Polyphony (Drimala, 2003)

  • The Matthew Shipp Discography, by Rick Lopez.
  • Howard Hampton Review of Nu Bop (Village Voice): "signals a new round in the great snipe hunt for that creature called fusion".
  • Gary Giddins on David S. Ware.
  • Gary Giddins Year End List: Matthew Shipp's New Orbit.
  • Perfect Sound Forever: Interview (May 1999) with Dave Reitzes. "but if you get down to the genesis of my concept about what jazz piano playing is, it's a certain idea of line. . . . And in my playing, even at its densest, I really do think like a bebop player, which is integrity of line." Shipp talks about the Duke Ellington pyramid of piano players, under which you find Monk, under which you find Waldron/Weston/Taylor, under which you find Shipp. "I think jazz by its nature, from bebop on, is an underground language with a very similar gestural genesis to punk."
  • Paul Edelstein (Rolling Stone): Review of Matthew Shipp's New Orbit: "one of the most daring and original pianists in jazz".
  • David Fricke (Rolling Stone): Review of Circular Temple and albums by Coltrane, Gaye, and Ware. "At times in '#1,' Shipp's singular union of cracked-note hammering and delicate harmonic suspense suggests a duet between Erik Satie and a very pissed off Cecil Taylor."
  • Interview by Alexander Laurence: "I think that sampling is a very valid form of musical thought. For someone to do it well requires musical imagination. You can?t be against it. Any aspect of Hip Hop is closer to the Jazz spirit than some of the conservative notions of people like Winston Marsalis. Max Roach said he understood where Hiphop was coming from. Hip Hop is here to stay. DJ culture is very valid."
  • Michaelangelo Matos (Gallery of Sound). Quotes Shipp: "So the initial impulse of the label was not jazz-meets-electronica, but avant-garde jazz, but not the way it's been done in the '90s. It was to really emphasize the lyrical aspects of their way of playing. Mainly, the electronica thing happened through Spring Heel Jack, who were on the label. At first I wasn't sure, but it worked, and that was the beginning of it."
  • Christian Hoard (Rolling Stone): Review of Equilibrium, ***: "On the first of his three 2003 releases, pianist Shipp delivers a mellow concoction of atmospheric textures, electronic samples and funk-lite beats. Still too avant-jazzy for most rock fans but fine dinner music nonetheless."
  • Interview by Brian L. Knight: "I think at its best, jazz is 'fuck you music'. I think that is what they share. They share a similar energy. To me, jazz is at its best, when it has completely gone against the status quo. Of course, we want to all get accepted and make money. I think the energy from jazz has to be outlaw energy or it is just not vital. It shares the same 'fuck you' attitude as punk if it is good. If you are trying to conform, you might as well forget it."