Skip to main content

Matthew Shipp: Piano Sutras, Thirsty Ear, 2013

What if Matthew Shipp’s Piano Sutras were to appear in record stores and in the catalogs of online distributors out of the blue. And we were to say: Who is this pianist, Matthew Shipp?

Perhaps then, his music could be seen as itself, without history, as a beginning of contemporary jazz and improvised music.  For in this recording, Shipp establishes a new set of formulas, which embody just a mere wisp of meaning behind the Eastern religious word, sutra.

To lift one’s listening into a consciousness not involving what one already knows is difficult, perhaps. But it isn’t, if the piano music travels on a journey that is peaceful, far from arrogant, certain, strong and pure.

That Shipp simply plays straightforwardly, without any flourishes or superficial performance drama, becomes the vehicle for perceiving his language. The way he combines and integrates the notes into instinctively measured phrasing, takes them through shifting repetitions and non-perfunctory rhythm structures presents a grounded elaboration on how his mind-more like his soul-is shaped.

He works the entire keyboard, building ascending and descending cascades. His left hand is magnetized to the darkness of the lower register. But his right hand knows the quick treble tremolo, single high note and lullaby-like melodies. Harmonically, the music is perfect. Of course, dissonance falls through the cracks every once in a while. The twists and turns are necessary for the elocution of the familiar. The music is all original, fraught with Shipp-isms. As a mature painter seems to paint with the same array of strokes from painting to painting, so Shipp commandeers his own palette of chords, synchronicity, juxtapositions, dynamic, and codas throughout the music-scape.

Piano Sutras is one of a handful of solo albums; the first being, One. The distance between his first and Piano Sutras  is vast. When One was released in 2005, Shipp was a younger guy, beginning to narrow down his field of vision. Ironically, this field of vision is the cosmos. Piano Sutras aligns with that field of vision, but with more coherence and, paradoxically, relaxed detail than in any other solo effort. His musical statements are more honed and resultantly richer. This mode of development for an artist is not absolutely the way it always goes. Some artists can drop off their path, believing that anything they do after a certain point in their musical lives, is worthy because of their past accomplishments.  In contrast, Shipp possesses an unswerving integrity. Way back when, his music had unrelenting vitality within fewer frames; he was in search of greater landing strips. Now it speaks from a dense core, which is alive, breathing, unquestionably vigorous, yet markedly controlled.

The early twentieth century novelist, Virginia Woolf, once proclaimed in one of her diaries that she wanted to write never using adjectives, only verbs.  Shipp’s music fits within that category. Silence is struck only when it is warranted. Shipp’s work is proactive, even when he plays his versions of Coltrane’s Giant Steps or Shorter’s Nefertiti. There seems to be quality in each piece that gives Shipp promise for the future.

How our lives are understood is abstract, in forms which have nothing to do with the hard-wired technology behind the keyboard that is recording this article. It is in that abstract realm that Shipp operates. The realm is evocative of all that is spiritual, all that is without end.

copyright 2013 Lyn Horton

Personnel: Matthew Shipp: piano.

Track Listing: Piano Sutras, Cosmic Shuffle, Surface to Curve, Blue To A Point, Cosmic Dust, Giant Steps, Uncreated Light, Fragment Of A Whole, Space Bubble, Nefertiti, Angelic Brain Cell, Silent Cube, The Indivisible.


Popular posts from this blog

As Seen on ARTEIDOLIA: Peter Pincus's Finesse

Peter Pincus’s FinesseLyn Horton
January 2019

Artists live in a tight world of history and influence. The medium an artist uses often points to possible penchants for attractive pods of that network. How an artist assimilates those areas of interest is complicated and eventually translates into what the artist ends up doing in both apparent and undetectable ways.
Peter Pincus is a contemporary ceramic artist. He has in his own practice evolved a means to unite history and influence to create his signature vision. Although he speaks of ceramics as being “too material specific to be classified as fine art,” he has produced an array of objects that walk a fine line of defying that statement.
As a teacher, husband and father, he and his wife have bonded to establish a vibrant working environment. Their studio is organized and stocked plentifully with materials exemplified by shelf after shelf after shelf of color-infused liquid slip clay. Twenty hours of studio time per week unfolds not o…

The Dance

Learning new image languages Is the same as inventing new words. How do we know their derivations? We view them in the context of history. Does the history matter? When the ‘present time’ is so trendy? History looms large in consciousness. Yet what happens right in front of our eyes Can be held in disbelief and ignored Or understood through study. To study can be instinctual. Rather than built into the rapidity of button pushing. The digital age has always existed. Instruments implementing the parts are different yet correlated. So why can’t we study and understand? As opposed to scan, send and share?
We can tap the larger, denser, more information picture. We can learn about derivations and history. The potential of discovery underneath the keyboard is vast. To take advantage of it is even admirable.
Sometimes taking things apart and putting them back together in unpredictable ways Allows for unexpected perceptions and learning. How could we forget? What did we learn in school? Di…

As Seen On ARTEIDOLIA: Swifts & Slows: Four Markers: Lyn Horton and Frand Ward