An Interview with Matthew Shipp

Matthew Shipp
The Blue Series and NEW ORBIT
by Paula Edelstein

Matthew Shipp is the curator and Artistic Director of The Blue Series, a stellar artistic endeavor currently available on Thirsty Ear Recordings. Throughout the year 2000, Matt launched and produced the series’ debut, PASTORAL COMPOSURE, and the series’ subsequent releases PAINTER’S SPRING by The William Parker Trio and BLUE DECCO by The Mat Maneri Quartet. All three recordings have been highly praised and lauded for their production excellence, originality, avant-garde expressions and brilliant improvisations by music journalists and appreciative audiences around the globe.

As one of the most daring and original pianists in jazz, Matt Shipp continues to cover a wide spectrum of musical concepts and methods. From avant-garde atonal textures to classical music textures and reams of bebop and free expressionism, Shipp has been positioned in a lineage between Thelonious Monk and Cecil Taylor. The fourth release in the series, NEW ORBIT, finds Shipp at peace with himself in his attempt to unite the many experiences he has had as an Afro-American composer and the “various strands of the modern music world that are relevant to him.” Matt Shipp is joined on NEW ORBIT by a great ensemble that includes Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet, bassist extraordinaire William Parker, and the dynamic Gerald Cleaver on drums.

JazzUSA: Hello Matt, The Blue Series is awesome! Excellent listening opps for unequaled musicianship, atonal textures and great avant-garde jazz! I really like your stylistic approach throughout the entire Series. How do you feel about the Series so far?

Matt: Hey Paula, what’s happening? Thanks. I’m happy with all the different musicians taking on the challenge of trying to do what we’re trying to do. Especially since what we’re trying to do is not easily definable, but I feel that they’ve all really tried to give it the spirit of the whole thing.

JazzUSA: Let’s talk a little about NEW ORBIT, the fourth release in THE BLUE SERIES on Thirsty Ear. You’ve stated that “this is the CD that you’ve always wanted to make, and it’s taken me 17 CDs and over 10 years to get here.” Is this the final release in the series since you feel your many artistic merits have been realized by it?

Matt: Oh no, no! There are three other CDs this year by other people.

JazzUSA: Who are the artists that you plan to record for the next three CDs for THE BLUE SERIES in 2001?

Matt: Well of course, in 2001 we have NEW ORBIT released in January, which is the fourth release in the The Blue Series. The next will be Tim Berne with a band called Lobo; and I’ll have Craig Taborn on electric keyboards and Tom Rainey on drums this time with a psychedelic electric band. The next one will be a Roy Campbell Quartet that will have Roy on trumpet, Khan Jamal on vibes, Wilbur Morris on bass and Guillermo E. Brown. The fourth will be Craig Taborn Trio. That was supposed to happen last year but didn’t. That will have Craig on piano, Chris Lightcap on bass, Gerald Cleaver on drums. So that’s the plan for the Blue Series this year.

JazzUSA: You’ve really conveyed a sense of peace and unity on NEW ORBIT with the four-part suite that includes “New Orbit,” “Orbit 2,” “Orbit 3,” and “Orbit 4.” Were there certain elements of transcendental meditation that influenced this distinctive suite?

Matt: Thanks. I would say a peaceful river of sorts!

JazzUSA: This quartet excels with the inclusion of trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith who has been compared to both Miles Davis and Don Cherry. Did you choose him because he has an ear to the future, so to speak?

Matt: Actually I chose Leo because I’ve known him for years and I’ve always wanted to play with him. He’s kind of timeless to me…there’s something about his sound that to me, when I hear it, it just something very natural about it. So I guess natural and timeless…his sound conveys naturalness and timelessness to me. So I just felt that he fit the idea that I wanted for this particular recording…that he was the person who’d pull this off.

JazzUSA: Cool! Your players have very open minds and grasp the concept of a NEW ORBIT completely. We feel that you’ve accomplished a tremendous goal in making it relevant to the 21st Century -it’s definitely right now and right in time for the new millennium-2001. Have you any aspirations to write an avant-garde jazz symphony for ballet or modern dance?

Matt: (Laughs!) I would have to be commissioned to do that because that’s quite an undertaking. So, things like that, you need some sort of support system and as of now, as we speak, that doesn’t exist…since it’s quite an undertaking.

JazzUSA: You also mentioned that you’ve always viewed yourself as an Afro-American composer and always wanted an opportunity to present a suite like this, i.e., NEW ORBIT, that is a synthesis of the various strands of the modern music world that are relevant to you. Were there other instances within your musical growth when you felt you wanted to pursue such as straight ahead, classical, etc. as opposed to the avant-garde jazz genre?

Matt: I really feel quite at home in the avant-garde jazz genre. That’s basically where I put my feet up on the table. That’s one of the great things about the avant-garde genre, in that it’s kind of free to be a melting pot for everything. That’s what I like about the idiom. I mean there is Albert Ayler playing marches and spirituals and whatever. So I kind of feel that I can take all the various things that I like and melt them down and use them within this idiom that I feel so at home in. Straight ahead is just not where my head’s at these days. I mean I enjoy doing it sometimes, but as far as doing it regularly, it’s just not where I’m at…and classical music doesn’t really give me the chance to be who I am.

JazzUSA: Will you be appearing in concert soon? If so, where?

Matt: I’ve been on the road a lot recently. I’ll be in France in January and on the West Coast in February and hopefully it’ll come together.

JazzUSA: Thank you for this interview. I really appreciate it. Congratulations again on THE BLUE SERIES for Thirsty Ear Recordings. It’s an amazing undertaking and you’re doing an excellent job. Matt, you’re great.

Matt: Thanks Paula. Take care.

JazzUSA: You’re welcome. Matthew Shipp is a genius with a remarkable ear to the future. The Blue Series would be an excellent addition to any collection and is highly recommended. Keep in touch with Matt Shipp at www.thirstyear.com.

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