The Matthew Shipp Trio (l-r): Whit Dickey, Matthew Shipp, Michael Bisio. Photo: Peter Gannushkin
Over the course of more than two decades, ASCAP pianist/composer Matthew Shipp has honed one of the most singular musical voices in jazz. Shipp's approach encompasses the angular dissonances of Thelonious Monk, the expressive freedom of the 60's jazz avant-garde and the technical innovations of modernist classical music. But just as important to Shipp's ethos is an openness to collaboration. Whether's it's his longstanding role in ASCAP saxophonist David S. Ware's quartet or his jazz/electronica/hip-hop hybrids for Thirsty Ear's Blue Series, Shipp continually expands the jazz idiom through his partnerships. 2012 will see two such projects from Shipp: his new trio album Elastic Aspects, and a film called The Composer, made in collaboration with outré filmmaker Barbara Januszkiewicz. We asked Shipp about both.
The title Elastic Aspects suggests both flexibility and also an appreciation of music on an atomic level. Do you think either of those ideas apply to what you're doing on the album?
The flexibilty and elasticity come from the atomic level — so yes, the macro view of the music is expansive, because the atomic realm of the music is in flux.
What kind of preparation did you, Michael Bisio and Whit Dickey go through before recording Elastic Aspects?
Well, we have spent a lot of time on the road in the last two years, so the music kind of develops on its own. Before the recording we did a couple of rehearsals, but most of the development of the music is natural.
How would you characterize the difference in your musical interplay with Michael Bisio vs. bassist William Parker, a frequent collaborator of yours over the years?
That is hard to put in words. I think of William as coming more out of a Jimmy Garrison type of thing — though William is always William — and I guess I see Michael as more willing to phrase in a way that might be closer to straightahead jazz sometimes. Although Michael is always Michael — they both are different players and they both are great.
Some pieces on Elastic Aspects have repeated fragments of melody, but they aren't treated as the same sort of harmonic/melodic springboards for improvisation that traditional bop might use. When you're composing a head, how do you think about its function in the context of the improv to follow?
The head is a springboard to push you in certain areas of improvisation — so the function is to provide an idea for motivic and or textural direction, more than a map that has to be followed exactly. It's part of a puzzle.
Do you consider improvising a form of composition?
Yes. Improvising is an incrediblily hard disclipine — it is the ability to communicate in real time what a so-called composer does in private. It is a total discipline that takes a lifetime of work.
Have you ever used a lick that came up spontaneously in your improvisation as the basis for a composed piece?
Yes — many times I've come across a lick and gone back and used that as a premise for a new piece.
What about Barbara Januszkiewicz's work inspired you to work with her?
She contacted me, and I knew she worked with Dave Liebman — her taste is always spot on. From the little I saw of her work, she seems to always make the right decisions — her sense of color is dynamic, and as far as how her sensibility will work with my music, she gets the artistic, non-musical things I go for in the music, so I am sure the collaboration will be fruitful.
Do you and she have a rough idea about what The Composer will look like and what will be filmed?
No. I trust Barbara’s concept and eye, and we do not know exactly how it will come out. I have an idea, but as it unfolds it will shape itself.
To what extent are you treating The Composer as a collaboration, as distinct from a film by her about you?
It is an art piece. It is a collaboration — it is not a documentary about me, absolutely not. We are trying to create a new form though this film.
It's fascinating to me that the film is called The Composer but concentrates on your relationship with your piano, as opposed to the music you write. Would this suggest that the two are inseparable?
In the macro, cosmic sense, the whole cosmos is inseparable, so the composer/pianist and the pianist and his relationship to his instrument and the music itself are all part of one space/time — one cosmic harmonic — one unified continuum.
Elastic Aspects comes out on February 28th via Thirsty Ear Recordings. You can pre-order it at Amazon.
Matthew Shipp on the web: matthewshipp.com
More about The Composer: thecomposer.info