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
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
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.