Do the Math

Here's your homework.

ZT 3
Matthew Shipp Trio
The Multiplication Table
hatOLOGY : 1998

MS, piano; William Parker, bass; Susie Ibarra, drums.

Matt Shipp is one of the most significant jazz players to come out of the generation inspired, at least in part, by punk. With records issued by Henry Rollins’ Infinite Zero and 2.13.61 labels, his belief in jazz as “fuck you” music, and his praise of Black Flag’s Damaged, Shipp stood at the cresting edge of jazz’s rediscovery of the world outside its immediate borders.

Which makes his selection of two Ellington tunes and “Autumn Leaves” for this late nineties trio set all the more surprising. But for his embrace of the punk ethos, Shipp is no anarchist, just a very catholic big-tenter. And he has invited two extremely sypathetic players into his tent, in Parker and Ibarra. The old chesnut “Autumn Leaves” gets a thorough going-over, with Shipp firmly leading the band through several roiling choruses before breaking shards of the song off and holding them up to the light. Parker’s arco section in the latter half offers a particularly rich recasting of the tune. While the Shipp-Parker sympatico is no surprise given how much the two have played together, Ibarra’s sensitive shadowing of Shipp through every twist and turn is a wonder. (For our money, Ibarra was Shipp’s most sympathetic drummer. Sadly, she is underrecorded.)

“ZT 3″ is a more abstract effort. A stark, halting tune that has some fun with a wide range of dynamics, “ZT 3″ hints at the chamber jazz approach of Shipp’s later New Orbit and the avant classical textures of The Sorcerer Sessions (both Dest:OUT faves). Everyone plays percussively and attentively. This is Shipp in meditative mode, contemplative but far from passive.

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Shipp’s career gives the lie to the notion of progress in the story of jazz. Recording with a rotating cast of characters (though centering on his partnership with bassist Parker), a retiree-turned-label-operator, Shipp remains difficult to slot into the standard narrative. Inheritor of Cecil Taylor’s school of dynamic pianism? Not entirely. Updater of Powell/Monk’s fractured romanticism? Maybe somewhat. Straddling the tradition and a forward-looking experimentalism, Shipp instead embodies a kind of quantum theory of jazz, where all styles coexist simultaneously, and a player can dip as easily into 1959 (see Shipp’s Oscar Peterson thing) as 2007.

This approach is writ large throughout The Multiplication Table. But what makes Shipp truly important is his ability to refract traditional jazz standards, classical textures, free improv, percussive tumult, and lyrical melody through his own musical prism. The results never sound like a patchwork grabbag of styles (well, maybe on Nu Bop they do). No matter how far he strays, Shipp’s playing always bears the unmistakable stamp of a particular and distinctive vision. He’s got many sounds - but they’re all his.

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Shipp has been busy of late, just coming off a month curating at The Stone, and finishing the final David S. Ware Quartet tour of Europe. On April 14, back in New York, he’s sharing the bill with e.s.t. for a solo hit at Merkin Hall.

Elsewhere, Tom Hull gives a very good overview of Shipp’s oeuvre at this page, which contains Hull’s pre-edit submission to The New Rolling Stone Record Guide (2004), along with some add-on links. Shipp was apparently one of a few jazzbos to make the cut.

Category Matthew Shipp

6 Responses to Do the Math

  1. Both tracks point to the same file.

  2. Whoops. Thanks, mwanji. Least we know you’re paying attention. Should be fixed now.

  3. I always pay attention to what D:O posts!

  4. Hey- I always get something new out of listening to Shipp. I don’t always feel moved or inspired or whatever by what I hear. The Autumn Leaves track sounds like an extended coda or finale to the song, as if it never gets started and is always finishing. The contemplative side of Shipp’s improvisation is hyperborean to my ears, with a rambling and sort of “math-y” dessication. Tundra. But I don’t mean these to be negative comments– I guess they sound negative. I appreciate tundra and codas.


  5. You didn’t warn us you were going to start posting math problems along with awesome music. What group is that?

  6. Damn, somehow I missed this one! I love Shipp!