Matthew Shipp is playing piano, and the floor is shaking. Big cluster chords ring through the modest interior of the Stone, in Manhattan’s East Village, where the great British improviser Evan Parker is playing a two-week residency in October 2009. Parker speaks gruffly on tenor sax, worrying the main motif of Thelonious Monk’s “Shuffle Boil.” His trio mates are Shipp and bassist William Parker, who react to the bluesy line but never play anything resembling the tune itself. The exchanges that follow gain much of their strength from Shipp and William Parker’s countless hours of shared experience, most notably as a duo and as one-half of the acclaimed (now disbanded) David S. Ware Quartet.
To be seated less than 6 feet behind Shipp’s back was to feel that shaking floor, to absorb the physical impact of his repeating fortissimo rhythms, flowing cyclical melodies and sudden ascents into sonic abstraction, coaxed from the piano’s interior. This was turbulent music from a turbulent, perplexing soul, one of the most imaginative and influential figures in free jazz today.