Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Interview with Matthew Shipp

Words + Photos: Gian Paolo Galasi

March, Thuesday 24. Pavia’s Municipality Culture Department scheduled a very good jazz review called Dialoghi Jazz per Due including Rudresh Mahanthappa playing with Vijay Iyer, whereas on April, 6, it will be time for Marc Ribot and Marco Cappelli to play. This night there will be a previous unheard performance by pianist Matthew Shipp and drummer Gunther ‘Baby’ Soemmer. They have never met each other before. You can see my photos of the concert here. Matthew joined at about 6 p.m., I asked him directly for a little interview and he very kindly agreed. Matthew Shipp was born in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1960, and debuted on Rob Brown’s Sonic Exploration (Cadence, 1987). Since the beginning of the 1990s, he was part of the David S. Ware quartet along with bassist William Parker, and also featured as a member of Roscoe Mitchell’s The Note Factory. As a leader Shipp issued many records with HatOLOGY, along with the likes of Mat Maneri, Joe Morris, Susie Ibarra and many others, and he devoted himself to both piano/bass/drums trio and electronic music as the curator of Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series, that at the beginning of February 2011 issued a two discs set (trio and solo performances) titled Art of the Improviser. I thank Matthew for his kindness and for the time given to me, and also for his ecstatic performance with Gunter at night in Santa Maria Gualtieri.

C.C.: The first question is about the beginning of your career and your first solo record, which is from 1997, Before The World; in the liner notes, you wrote that you were influenced by baroque music …
M.S.: Thought also in baroque music … Baroque was a matter of contamination also, but I like to be on linear sense, because jazz can be very linear, and baroque music also can be on a flake, inventing on lines from a quarter, but there’s also kind of a thing in Renaissance music called the Breaking of the Circle that I’m really into to even now, in a much more modern way… I don’t remember the liner notes at all, but I think all I meant was that there is a rich traditional keyboard music, and in baroque history, and jazz musicians has often used it as a device for practising because it’s very similar to the way jazz musicians would play, not language-wise, not inflection-wise but just in how keyboards lay out, because baroque indulges from quarters, that’s why.

C.C.: Thinking about your palette of colours, you skimmed through improvisation, hip hop, and also electronic music … as far as jazz, you studied with Dennis Sandole who was John Coltrane teacher, and Ran Blake, but as far as electronic music and hip hop, were you having in mind some particular musicians, that could have influenced your style?
M.S.: No, no, I’m primarily an acoustic jazz player, as far as when I have done experiments with electronic music I’m just relating to the modern world in a modern field, I mean, I’m fifty years old but I grew up listening to a lot of funk music and even now hip hop generations a lot younger than myself, so I’m still settling in, so I don’t have any directing point as far as electronic music; I’m into what’s happening up on the street, but at the same time I’m familiar with music concrète, and Varèse, I know that music.

C.C.: Using real instruments and layering them with others recorded on tape?
M.S.: Yeah, exactly, I know that music, I wouldn’t say that I know it more than anything else, but I had checked it out …

C.C.: Were you also into the way contemporary composers are layering and patterning instruments or into borrowing structures from that music?
M.S.: No, it’s more … just the psychological space, and the idea of the spinning sound, I wouldn’t say I had borrowed any structure.

C.C.: Your new bassist is Michael Bisio, that replaced Joe Morris within the trio that recorded your last record The Art of the Improviser, along with Whit Dickey,
M.S.: … Right …

C.C.: What are the main differences between those musicians playing together? Did the entering of Michael Bisio change in some way the way you improvise… ?
M.S.: I think Michael Bisio enjoys playing with Whit Dickey, the drummer, more than Joe Morris did, cause there was some friction (laughs) …

C.C.: So your playing together is more fluent …
M.S.: I would say that the drums and the bass are enjoying each other and coupling more now than they did in the past (we both laugh) ...

C.C.: I was reading an interview in which you said that when you were playing with David S. Ware, usually in this quartet it wasn’t the drummer to give the pulse, but you and William ... it’s the same with your trio, as a matter of dictating the pulse of the composition in general?
M.S.: Oh, I think what I met in the Ware quartet was that we had four drummers, in the time I was there, so the direction of piano and the rhythm section was more dictated by William and myself than it was the drummer, so William and I started to swerve in, serve in and aquit and the drummer skimming at and up to it, but we never allowed the drummer to really dictate the direction of the rhythm section. While in my own trio I’m bringing people that I have a natural relationship with, so I don’t think it’s a matter of anybody dictating anything, just … We feel each other and we know where we need to go …

C.C.: You were also talking about this thing referring to people saying ‘oh, those guys play avant garde music, like in the ‘70’; and you were also talking about the differences between the New Thing, and even before, John Coltrane, and Albert Ayler, and the next generations, because they were kind of investigating new sounds by themselves because maybe, I mean, maybe it was different for Albert because he was playing with people like …
M.S.: … Sunny Murray …

C.C.: Yes!
M.S.: Very picked up ...

C.C.: but maybe for someone like John Coltrane, who had McCoy Tyner on his back, maybe McCoy would follow him, but maybe he wouldn’t help him to have kind of a net, as a musician …
M.S.: Right, right …

C.C.: And then, after a while, there was this new generation, people like Anthony Braxton, Leo Smith, and Roscoe Mitchell, who, like Sun Ra, tried, at least some of them, to make a relationship between composition tools and ancient philosophies …
M.S.: Right …

C.C.: …So, in some way,do you think that Roscoe Mitchell, with whom you played for many years in a double quartet [and besides the Note Factory, the two musicians played together in 1996’s duo record 2-Z, on Thirsty Ear label], is the nearest to your generation of players, kind of a middle figure between the old avant-garde generation and your generation?
M.S.: Oh, I’m older than I am … (laughs) Yeah, yeah, I agree with that, I think the great thing about Roscoe is that especially on the soprano playing he has a kind of approach opposed to Coltrane thing that he did with … you know, he doesn’t sound like Coltrane at all, so he stopped a very strong post Coltrane experience in sound and approaching; in many years of development Roscoe music have been incorporated and many has this kind of crazy Roscoe post bop feeling. So I think that what he really mixed and incorporated is not again the same thing of the sixties, in fact he is very conscious of the music having his step on it, and in another way he is a bridge between the older generation and my generation, definitely …

C.C.: Talking about piano players, what are the ones that influenced you the most? Duke Ellington, Mal Waldron, Andrew Hill, and maybe Clifford Brown outside piano music …
M.S.: Yes…

C.C.: I know that your mother introduced you to his music …
M.S.: She was a friend of him …

C.C.: Ah …
M.S.: Yes, as far as piano, I don’t have influences (laughs), I would say the whole tradition of music. Mal is an indicative and very colourful pianist … I think he was a big influence on all of the first generation of avant-garde players, he was an amazing influence on Hempsey Davis and the second and third generation maybe … and he was an organizer of improvisation itself, and also going to be an influence on Monk as a pianist, who is often mentioned by avant-gardists as a major figure so I would say that Mal Waldron is someone people don’t talk about but he was my favourite piano player…

C.C.: I have an old record [in fact, from those live sessions at the Five Spot Café in 1961, three records were issued on Prestige label: Eric Dolphy at Five Spot voll. 1 and 2, and Eric Dolphy and Booker Little Memorial Album] in which he was playing with Eric Dolphy and he had this piano completely out of tune, but he made such things on it  …
M.S.: Oh right, look, what I like about Mal, he was abiding to play traditional bars but at the same time he often has his minimus thing where he can do repetitions on various things and almost make in a free festival like electronic music even on playing, and I also did a big orchestra staring a very rich distorted sound on the instrument and he’s .. yeah, that’s what I mean, he was a bridge between Bud and Monk who is somewhere else, so I really love Mal Waldron a lot.

C.C.: I wanted to talk a little also about spirituality, because every time I listen to musicians like Willam Parker, Leo Smith, or even Toshinori Kondo, you can relate the building of their style as musicians to a personal quest … William Parker often described himself not as a creator of music but as a conductor … do you mind about something similar, I mean you feel as a composer or as someone who takes elements that are existing in the world, putting them down on notes or …
M.S.: Oh, that’s what everybody does … I mean, I don’t know nobody dealing with pure void, I mean you always try to empty your mind so you can deal with the void, but at the same time we’re human being, so there’s limitations to how pure we can be because the world’s not pure, and I’m not pure myself … but I’m attempting to reach a pure rama creativity and a pure rama language, and a pure rama vibration, in other ways pure mind or even behind mind and that’s another chance that you have, you know, whatever I do up in there there’s a spiritual quest because there is a request to understand language and who you are. We can depot a picture of the whole universe and the whole cosmos …

C.C.: So … a couple days ago I talked with a painter that also has a huge interest in spirituality and there is a reflection of that in her creation … in some ways, Sunyata, that is the name of your master, that was also a musician ..
M.S.: Right, right, Nothingness, that’s what that name means to extent … I’m definitely aiming for the void that is empty but full up .. so the process of playing to me is a meditating process, that’s what I’m trying to do.

C.C.: Ok, the last question is about some of your past statements … talking about which, I’ll try to make some sort of self-analysis ... maybe often critics tend to be lazy, in some ways, maybe there’s people that would write a lot about, say, Herbie Hancock or Wayne Shorter, musicians that forged their own style maybe fourty or fifty years ago, but maybe in this very present there could be lots of musicians that are trying to find out their own way and maybe people like me isn’t try to deal with them, because we’re still listening to old musicians …
M.S.: I don’t remember talking about writers  …

C.C.: … I read about this controversy [I read about that first on AllaboutJazz forum at the end of 2009 ... references are Jazz Times, Nov. 2009, and Spinner, Jan. 2010] … I think that the problem is related more to the space that is given to well know musicians and the difficulties in dig in …
M.S.: I think I was talking about jazz in the stream in general, more than on writers, and I was talking firstly about people that played with Miles Davis that kind of had a monopoly, but I don’t have anything against jazz writers, they are very kind, but the jazz in the stream in general is still really behind here, in a thirty or forty years cycle and that’s the problem. That’s because you’re spending your own full life trying to get to a certain level when you can work regularly and by the time you get there your best music is already behind you, and go yet that when you get playing ordinary things and there is that young people coming along, you know, it’s good but that’s where electronic music go, and that’s where everybody catches up (laughs), kind of a weird tablet, that’s the way whole jazz in a stream operate, and it’s only twenty years behind itself, and I find that interesting. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Brotzmann / Kondo / Parker / Drake - Die Like A Dog (4CD Box, Jazzwerkstatt, 2007)

"This ticking is most terrible of all – / You hear the sound I mean on ships and trains, / You hear it everywhere, for it is doom; / The tick of real death, not the tick of time; / The termite at the rotten wainscot of the world – / And it is death to you, though well you know / The heart's silent tick, the tick of real death, / Only the tick of time-still only the heart's chime / When body's alarm wakes whirring to terror." (Malcolm Lowry, Thirty-five Mescals in Cuautla). Brotzmann's Die Like A Dog Quartet is one of the most intense live act you could meet on earth. Music is provided by four master musicians: Brotzmann aside, trumpeter Toshinori Kondo, bassist William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake are the core of this project. 

The quartet is one of the highest peaks in impro's world, mixing and distilling the quintessence of music: the bright, spiritual side of Drake's and Parker's spiritual visions with the abrasiveness and iconoclastic clash of german multireedist and japanese electrified and distorted sound. Die Like A Dog takes his name from both Albert Ayler's death and Malcokm Lowry's Under The Volcano. In fact, Ayler's death is still wrapped up in mystery, his body found on the bank of New York City's East River in November 25, 1970, 20 days after his disappearence. Probably, a suicide. The last pages of Lowry's literary masterpiece are devote to the death of his principal character, the consul, an alcohol addict of whom, during the novel, we discover life and sentimental struggling. The last image of the novel is the consul plunging into a volcano followed by his dog. Philosopher Gilles Deleuze wrote beautiful pages about this novel and alcohol adiction, anyway the music on this four CD set provided with a beautiful 32 page booklet (full of b/w photos and essays both in German and English) is violently and abstract impressionistic. 

Only in Fragments of music, life and death of Albert Ayler, captured live (as the other three sets) in 1993 in Berlin, at the Townhall Charlottenburg, short quotes from Ayler themes are presented, iterspersed with acid and rough solos, duos and ensemlble telepathic wild interplay; the other three records (Little birds have fast hearts no. 1 and 2 come from the 1997's 30th Total Music Meeting, Aoyama Crows was recorded in 1999 at the Podewil, in Berlin) are less related to Ayler semanthics and are defined by a dense, buoyant and abstract feeling. Kind of a mixing between music and painting, where we can recognise and appreciate Brotzmann mastery in both arts at the same time.

Tracks and Personnel

Fragments of music, life and death of Albert Ayler
Tracks: No. 1; No. 2; No. 3; No. 4
Personnel: Peter Brotzmann: alto and tenor saxophones, tarogato; Toshinori Kondo: trumpet and electronics; William Parker: bass; Hamid Drake: drums.

Little Birds have Fast Hearts No. 1
Tracks: Part 1; Part 2.
Personnel: Peter Brotzmann: tenor saxophone, tarogato and clarinet; Toshinori Kondo: trumpet and electronics; William Parker: bass; Hamid Drake: drums.

Little Birds have Fast Hearts No. 2
Tracks: Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6.
Personnel: Peter Brotzmann: tenor saxophone; tarogato and clarinet; Toshinori Kondo: trumpet and electronics; William Parker: bass; Hamid Drake: drums.

Aoyama Crows
Tracks: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4.
Personnel: Peter Brotzmann: tenor saxophone, tarogato and clarinet; Toshinori Kondo: trumpet and electronics; William Parker: bass; Hamid Drake: drums.

Die Like a Dog Quartet - Jazz Festival Berlin 1995

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

John Giorno @ Cox 18

dalle 22.08

ricordando Primo Moroni
reading di John Giorno
La rassegna “scali di parole” giunge al suo 5° appuntamento ospitando un reading di John Giorno.
“Scali di parole” nasce lavorando all’archivio Primo Moroni: tra le migliaia di volumi che costituiscono l’archivio, si è arrivati a catalogare anche i libri di poesia e da lì è partita l’idea di organizzare una rassegna poetica in Cox18. L’appuntamento di questo mese è in particolar modo dedicato a Primo Moroni.
Primo invitò alla Calusca molti poeti, tra cui Lawrence Ferlinghetti e Lance Henson. “Scali di parole” tenta di portare la poesia e il suo messaggio di liberazione fuori dai circuiti commerciali o istituzionali (gallerie, musei …) per tentare di dare corpo all’inerenza tra forma e contenuto…

John Giorno è nato a New York nel 1936, ma è originario di tursi in provincia di matera. vive, da sempre, a new york.
E’ uno dei più importanti poeti e performer della seconda metà del XX secolo, e la sua storia e attività continua agli albori di questo XXI.
life is a killer è il titolo di una poesia di john giorno del 1981, espressione poi ripresa in diversi printed-poems (uno dei quali è riprodotto nella locandina della serata).
Sia in ambito letterario che in quello visivo la sua esperienza e pratica è un’esempio di pop art applicata ai testi.
Lunga la lista delle sue amicizie e collaborazioni: william s. burroughs, brion gysin, andy warhol, robert rauschenberg, jasper johns, patti smith, laurie anderson, philipp glass, glenn branca, hüsker dü, sonic youth, diamanda galas, keith haring… che hanno collaborato con lui per l’etichetta giorno poetry systems fondata nel 1965.
Nel 1984 fonda ‘’the AIDS treatment project’’ che si occupa del sostegno ai sieropositivi e ai malati di AIDS.

See http://cox18.noblogs.org/ for full infos.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Mulatu Astatké @ Rome, Auditorium Parco della Musica 03/10/11

I landed in Fiumicino Airport at about 4 p.m., last tuesday ... a busy afternoon (going to the city by bus, checking my room, eating something, seeing a  Nam June Paik exhibition I got to write about in the next days ... ) but after all, it was well worth. Mulatu Astatké is currently touring with a septet: multi-reed (flute, clarinet, tenor saxophone), trumpet, keyboards, cello, viola, bass, drums and percussions. Spanning through his old and new repertoire, Mulatu gives new shape to old songs like Yèkatit and Tezeta, as far as new compositions like Mulatu's Mood (from Steps Ahead, his latest record). 

Born in Djimma (in the south-west of Ethiopia) in 1943, at 17 Mulatu Astatké started traveling in UK and USA to study music and create his own bands and groups, giving shape to his music and ideas. In London he became familiar with latin-american music, that was the hot spot just before Beatlesmania. In New York, finally, he founded the Ethiopian Quintet (Afro Latin Soul, their first LP, was issued in 1966), with musicians for the most part from Puertorico. His music was something previously unheard: a mix of latin rhythms, ethiopic melodies, whereas in his native land no instrumental tradition (with the exception of military march-past, ethiopian various music styles are focused on singing, both in griots ancient tradition and in modern developments of popular music) nor caraibican music (the Imperial Body Guard Band, that backgrounded such diverse talented musicians as Getatchèw Mekurya, Thlaoun Gessesse and Mahmoud Amhed was provided with ethnic percussions, but with no latin tinges at all ... ) had their own proper place before.

This night Mulatu and his musicians gives music a stronger grooving sensation than the last time I listened to him with Either/Orchestra in Milan a couple of years ago, and his palette seems more 1970's oriented. Maybe because of his electric piano (very similar to the one Keith Jarret was using playing live with Miles Davis,  but without distortions and with a thin, spacey sound) and of a viola and a cello doubling and expanding the acoustic bass range on melody and rhythm. It's the same with flute and clarinet alternating with tenor saxophone and trumpet. An orchestral sound in wich single imprivisations are well fitted into the ensemble, giving the melancholic strangeness of ethiopian melodies a wider, intoxicating brightness.

Mulatu Astatké Discography

As bandleader

  • "Maskaram Setaba" 7" (1966, Addis Ababa Records, US)
  • Afro-Latin Soul, Volume 1 (1966, US)
  • Afro-Latin Soul, Volume 2 (1966, US)
  • Mulatu Of Ethiopia LP (1972, Worthy Records, US)
  • Yekatit Ethio-Jazz LP (1974, Amha Records, Ethiopia)
  • Plays Ethio Jazz LP (1989, Poljazz, Poland)
  • Ethio Jazz: Mulatu Astatke Featuring Fekade Amde Maskal
  • From New York City to Addis Ababa: The Best of Mulatu Astatke
  • Mulatu Astatke
  • Assiyo Bellema
  • Éthiopiques, Vol. 4: Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale, 1969-1974 CD (1998, Buda Musique, France)
  • Mulatu Steps Ahead with the Either/Orchestra CD/2xLP (2010, Strut, Germany)

As a musician and collaborator

  • Tche Belew with Hailu Mergia & The Walias Band (1977, Kaifa Records, Ethipia)
  • Inspiration Information with the Heliocentrics (2009)

Compilation appearances

  • Ethiopian Modern Instrumentals Hits LP (1974, Amha Records, Ethiopia)
  • New York–Addis–London: The Story of Ethio Jazz 1965–1975 (2009, Strut, Germany)