Matthew Shipp Live at Yoshi's (Oct. 2007)
Harry S. Pariser
Some years back, I turned on KUSF, the San Francisco iconoclastic radio station located at the University of San Francisco, to find myself in the middle of an interview with pianist Matthew Shipp. I was so struck by what he said that I went down to Bruno’s, a bar and restaurant on Mission Street which was programming inventive jazz at the time, and checked him out. Ever since then, I’ve been a fan of his challenging music. So I was delighted to see that he would be coming in the company of his trio for a one-night stand at Yoshi’s in Oakland to perform music from their recent CD release “Piano Vortex.”
Shipp is one of the most unusual and unconventional pianists around. He maintains he’s “into space exploration” and describes himself as a “post Sun Ra musician.” He maintains he would like to just step off the piano stool and “into the void.” He views the “piano as a spaceship” and it is not unusual to find “Matthew Shipp thanks the piano” in the liner notes on his CDs. “I draw on the entire jazz piano tradition, ranging from Paul Bley to Andrew Hill to Bill Evens to McCoy Tyner.”He started off wanting to be a church organist before he saw Ahmad Jamal on TV when he was 12 — an experience which changed his life.
Shipp launches into the tune “Piano Vortex” before moving on to “Three in One,” “Whole Tune,” Version Complex,” and “My Funny Valentine.” The 1 hour 20 minute set is an intense listening experience. Shipp’s playing is difficult to categorize. Percussive, meditative, subtle, sound landscapes, a wall of sound — these are some of the descriptions that come to my mind.
Bassist Joe Morris is equally diverse. He plays meditatively but also fingers his bass while bowing. Morris is also a highly acclaimed avant-garde guitarist. Born in Connecticut and largely self trained as a musician, he began playing bass in 2000.
Drummer Whit Dickey plays softly with his brushes as well as frantically with his sticks and taps melodically on his cymbals. Dickey has played with Matthew Shipp in saxophonist David S. Ware’s quartet.
The sonic meditation of the three spans the range from delicate to cacophonous. At one point, Shipp plays the strings inside his piano. In the jazz world, bassist Joe Morris tells me, “We feel like an endangered species.” I don’t think that it’s quite that bad — there are quite a few avant-garde players still around — but I do recommend checking these players out if you have the opportunity.
[an error occurred while processing this directive]