Thursday, February 02, 2006

Matthew Shipp sails

One of the many things that I like about pianist Matthew Shipp is that he's a wrestling fan. For real. He says that he doesn't like to do shows at the beginning of the week because that means that he'll miss WWE's Monday Night Raw. He also confers with saxist Sabir Mateen about twice a week on their favorite matches and wrestling superstars. Before any wrestling hata's get in a tangle, minimalist godhead La Monte Young also happens to be a fan too (not to mention Jad Fair, Cyndia Lauper, numerous rappers who name check their favorite WWE stars...)

There are other reasons to admire Shipp as well. When Thirsty Ear honcho Peter Gordon introduced him for a performance at the illustrious Steinway showroom in midtown Manhattan, he recalled that the first time he heard about the pianist was a recommendation from Henry Rollins who told him in his usual non-threatening way "YOU'RE GONNA LOVE HIM!!!!" HR was right and Gordon had Shipp curate the label's innovative genre-crashing Blue Series. After Gordon's intro, a small audience was treated to a half-hour improved piece- when I met Shipp just before the show, he laughed and said "I don't know!" when I asked what he was going to play that night. We were treated to intense Cecil Taylor chord clouds meeting with Thelonious Monk playfulness. By a strange coincidence, an impolite cell phone ring marked the end of his set.

Shades of his new album, One, crept up in the performance, especially "Arc" and "Gamma Ray." His other obsessions come through here in the titles: science and specifically astronomy. Also, like Monk and Taylor, Shipp has enough thoughtfulness to pull off a solo piano work well. Watching him up close performing helps you to appreciate, seeing literally how much of himself he puts into his playing- hearing the loud clicking of the keys, fingers fluttering, neck and head arched forward into the instrument. I've seen him at the Vision Festival, performing with stellar ensembles, including gadfly bassist William Parker, but his playing alone is a pleasure not to be missed.


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