Pianist Matthew Shipp on Letting Music Unfold Like a Play

When Matthew Shipp writes music, he says he thinks about the people he’s playing with, and the innovative jazz pianist tries to get material that works with their personalities. Then he just lets it unfold like a play.

“I’m always thinking of Scene One, Scene Two, Scene Three and some type of continuity,” Shipp says, “but they’re all different kind of worlds.... I just play around with ideas until stuff comes up. Sometimes, with certain albums, I have an extreme idea of how I want it, and sometimes I go in with fragments and let it construct itself in the studio.”

With his remarkable forthcoming album, The Conduct of Jazz, slated for release in October on Thirsty Ear, Shipp says there was probably a mixture of both approaches. He had a pretty clear sense of exactly the kind of sound he wanted, but he also had some ideas sketched out, and he was open to letting things flow another way, "but they kind of flowed in a way I was hoping they would,” he adds.

Bassist Michael Bisio, who has recorded with Shipp on six albums, said in a promotional video for The Conduct of Jazz, “The music we play is steeped in tradition without being traditional. We understand jazz tradition; we want to be able to add something to the vocabulary.”

Shipp adds that a big part of their background is the whole jazz experience: “And I would say we’ve all experienced that fully. However, wherever we chose to take that is a different thing, but we kind of all experience that full jazz consciousness.”

The Conduct of Jazz is a jazz-trio album that features Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker (who has worked with McCoy Tyner, Ahmad Jamal, Henry Threadgill and others), but when Shipp performs at Dazzle on Saturday, July 25, he’ll be in the duo format with Bisio. Shipp says they have a whole back-load of material to choose from, including material they’ve done just as a duo.

“Sometimes I play stuff and don’t even tell him what it is,” Shipp says. “I mean, I just want him to react, and there’s just the fray in it, as a fresh kind of improvised piece, even though I might be playing an old composition of mine. And he might not even be aware of it.”

Ship says they might play a few things from The Conduct of Jazz and possibly throw in a few standards and deconstruct iit n their own way. While Shipp says the piano-bass-drum trio format is a traditional jazz instrumentation, the duo is more of an intimate chamber sound.

“So we play off of that vibe a little bit, because it’s naked interaction of two people,” Shipp says. “It’s a drummer-less thing. The music is explosive. It’s syncopated. It’s pulsing. It’s our version of jazz, but it just has a slightly different kind of chamber-esque vibe to it. It’s hard to say that because of the way we play, but there’s an element of truth to that.”

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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon