EXCLUSIVE ALBUM PREVIEW: Matthew Shipp’s The Art of the Improviser

Matthew Shipp
Art of the Improviser
Thirsty Ear : 2011

MS, piano.

Our mini-festival around pianist and composer Matthew Shipp continues with a preview of his upcoming album Art of the Improviser. This wonderful double-disc set marks Shipp’s 50th birthday and serves as a sort of career summation. Comprised of two live discs — one with a new acoustic trio and another solo — it features such early compositions as “Circular Temple,” alongside favorite standards including “Take the A Train,” and newer compositions like “4D.”

Shipp has released a prodigious number of albums in a remarkable variety of contexts. It can be daunting to keep up with him. For those who are new to his music or haven’t checked in for a while, Art of the Improviser promises to be a revelation. It’s both a good introduction and an ideal place to reconnect with his work. Over the past decade, Shipp’s music has undergone a quiet and profound metamorphosis — boldly incorporating elements of groove, repetition, and melody in surprising new configurations.

Our exclusive preview track showcases many of these attributes. “Wholetone” is a striking new composition that’s daring in its use of insistent repetition, deceptively simple riffs, almost classical textures, and sly dissonance. The opening bass vamp grounds the tune and demands attention, while the rest of the performance deploys various strategies to wonderfully complicate the tune’s dramatic refrain. Forgive the abrupt ending — on the disc, it segues directly into the next track.

Matt was kind enough to answer some questions about the new album. See his responses below:

The title “The Art of the Improviser” harkens back to an Ornette Coleman album with almost the same name. Was that intentional?

The title has nothing to do with Ornette. In fact, I had forgotten he had an album of that name. I did not want to think of a conceptual title for the album, so I am an improviser and there is an art to it, so hence the title.

The album offers a snapshot of your music, seen in different contexts (band vs. solo, originals vs. standards). You’ve played in countless configurations over the years: Why did you choose to mark the occasion with this particular acoustic trio and a solo recording?

The trio is a new trio with Michael Bisio taking over the bass spot and he is a new person in my universe, so it seemed a good thing to deal with the new trio. Plus I had a tape from the solo gig and I loved the way they captured the sound-almost like a concert hall. The David S. Ware album Live in the World was a model for this although we have two cds not three and his were all quartet, albeit with different drummers. Solo and trio seemed to show different aspects of what I do and seemed to fit together nicely.

Your playing has undergone a metamorphosis over the years. Have you consciously pushed yourself in new directions? How important is it for musicians to develop their own musical language?

I get bored easily, especially with myself, so yes I am always into something a little different. Even if it’s all acoustic if you catch me a month later something different will be happening in my phrasing etc. Bill Evans said you are always trying to express something deeper—and that is the quest. I see no alternative but to create your own musical language. Or to quote William Blake, ”I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s.”

Where do you see yourself heading musically over the next decade?

I have no idea where I am headed except for the fact that I will probably keep playing. Maybe I will stop growing and my playing will become stagnant, its always a possibility. Maybe a piano will just pop out of my head and I will not have to play it, just think of the note sequence and it will play itself. Anything is possible in future.


Art of the Improviser will be released by Thirsty Ear next Tuesday. You can preorder a copy here.

Pick up a copy of the February issue of The Wire to read Phil Freeman‘s excellent profile of Matthew Shipp.

The banner year for Matthew Shipp continues next month with Cosmic Lieder, a duo album with saxophonist Darius Jones that will be released by Aum Fidelity.



We’re giving away multiple copies of Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew Live. Be sure to check the D:O Facebook page on  Wednesday…

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