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Matthew Shipp: I’ve Been To Many Places, Thirsty Ear, 2014

Since Matthew Shipp has known the piano, the way he plays it has inevitably changed. Not that he has refuted traditional methods or those derived from musicians who have influenced him; rather he has used all these methods as a means to break musical language barriers in order to merge with his intentionally vast expansion of the piano’s sound, so vast that he reaches into an unknown personal space and time.

In his solo release, I’ve Been To Many Places, Shipp looks retrospectively at several pieces he has already recorded and filters them through the way in which his playing has developed.  These selections as well as improvised works constitute the album. Those unfamiliar with Shipp’s music would by nature hear the recording as all brand new, just as Shipp believes it is himself.

On the whole, the music bears a relaxed, though beautifully pristine, feel. It isn’t that Shipp has tossed away many of the Shipp-isms which are recognizable in past recordings or performances.  Instead he has simply let go of the tension and tightness that sometimes informs his signature style.

His journey on the keyboard is fluid, often moderating between mid-keyboard and treble pitches, not addressing many of the huge, heavy, black block chords that he is adept at integrating into his expression. The rhythms are always switching, especially noticeable in the standards, “Summertime” and “Tenderly,” and identifiable in Shipp’s compositions: for example, in the beboppish “Brain Stem Grammar,” the elegant “Waltz,” the delicate “Symbolic Access,” the quasi-swinging “Blue Astral Bodies” or the deeply moving “Life Cycle.” 

Dissonance is often crucial to the musical discussion as is repetition, giving way to abstraction, the deconstruction of some tunes and the construction of others.  Coltrane’s “Naima” and Walter Gross’ “Tenderly” are hardly recognizable due to Shipp’s shift in emphasis on the phrasing of what we are accustomed to hearing. Most surprising is the pianist’s rendition of Donny Hathaway’s “Where is The Love?” and its rhythmically dilated reprise after the steadied, clutching, chordal “Light Years.” The insertion of “Where is The Love?” is surprising because Shipp throws in an aspect of “the popular,” not only for the reason that it reflects his recording experience, but also because it is a downright cool thing to do. Shipp is human, after all. And very cool.

Shipp is a master of the piano. He will never let anyone forget it. And he will embrace every chance to make it known by surrounding his audiences with unusual approaches to the keyboard every time he plays. He knows that the universe is everything; that we are only atoms; and that sound is the never-ending expedition of the wave. The twenty-three seconds of resonance coming from the last chord of the concluding “Cosmic Wave” proves it.

Copyright 2014 Lyn Horton

Track Listing: I’ve Been To Many Places; Summertime; Brain Stem Grammar; Pre-Formal; Web Play; Tenderly; Life Cycle; Brain Shatter; Symbolic Acces; Waltz; Reflex; Naima; Where Is The Love; Light Years; Where Is The Love (reprise); Blue Astral Bodies; Cosmic Wave.

Personnel: Matthew Shipp: piano.

This music review will be the last one that I will be writing. Since 1995, I have written well over five hundred articles about the art of music and its musicians. I have attended many concerts, listened to many recordings and have advanced my education in ways I would have never predicted prior to my engagement with the music. I know many musicians personally and love them all. Thanks to the musicians who have given to me freely and spiritually. And thanks to the record companies who have allowed me to open my ears with their recordings.  


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