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Matthew Shipp: Zero

Mark Corroto By

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There has always been a connection between Thelonious Monk and Matthew Shipp, just not in the music they play. Monk, a student of Harlem stride piano, was present at the birth of bebop. Shipp, born in 1960, has always been associated with the avant-garde, free jazz and improvisation. The connection between the two pianists is their creation of a distinctive and personal language. Monk's melodic twists were foreign to many listeners and were put down as being weird and unconventional. It may be surprising today to read reviews of Monk's music from back in the day describing his playing "wrong notes." Today we hold up as untouchable genius the music he wrote and perfected over many years practice and application, and it seems strange to us that many couldn't "hear" it.

The same can be said of Shipp. Over the course of more than thirty years recording and performing, his catalog has swelled. Unlike Monk, Shipp rarely repeats a composition, leaving listeners of his often challenging music in need of a way in, a sort of Rosetta Stone. I suggest that Zero might be just such a tool.

These eleven tracks are a synthesis of his methodology. Although he has absorbed Bill Evans, Duke Ellington, Cecil Taylor, Elmo Hope, Arnold Schoenberg, and Johann Sebastian Bach, the language he has created is all his own. That said, his catalog is ineffable and possibly without a proper description. Listening to Zero—like, say, Thelonious Alone In San Francisco (Riverside, 1959)—is a key to his denser works.

Like Monk, Shipp has created his own language, what he might call a symbol system. His blues are often fragmented, leading you away from the familiar and into a house with many rooms. He can attack the keyboards as a percussionist, or play some gentle licks that would soothe a kitten. There is a logic to each piece here, and the listener can have confidence in the resolution of ideas.

Besides the music as a blueprint to Shipp's vast catalog, the release comes with a second CD recording an hour-long lecture the pianist gave at The Stone in NYC explaining his process.

Track Listing: Zero; Abyss Before Zero; Pole After Zero; Piano Panels; Cosmic Sea; Zero Skip and a Jump; Zero Subtract From Jazz; Blue Equation; Pattern Emerge; Ghost Pattern; After Zero.

Personnel: Matthew Shipp: piano.

Title: Zero | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: ESP Disk

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