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Matthew Shipp: Song of Himself

As his 50th birthday approaches, Matthew Shipp upholds the avant-garde ideal with a new solo piano album and a creative temperament as restless as ever

Matthew Shipp (photo: Peter Gannushkin)
Evan Parker, Matthew Shipp and William Parker
Matthew Shipp, William Parker

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.

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Originally Published

David R. Adler

David R. Adler writes about jazz and assorted topics. His work has appeared in JazzTimes, NPR Music,, The Philadelphia InquirerThe Village Voice, DownBeat, Time Out New York, and many other publications. From 2010-2017 he taught jazz history at the Aaron Copland School of Music (Queens College-CUNY). In summer 2017, after 30 years in New York (apart from two in Philadelphia), David relocated with his family to Athens, Georgia. There he continues to write about music and perform solo as a guitarist/vocalist.