I’ve Been To Many Places, my upcoming solo piano release on Thirsty Ear Records, is an apotheosis for me. I feel like the piano is a live organism at this point. I feel a complete fusion of my soul — however you define or don’t define soul — and my brainwaves as they cohere to create kaleidoscopic patterns on a piece of wood that the English dictionary calls a piano.
I have my own mythology that feeds my playing: I see myself as having a language system embedded in my head or in my DNA that I can unfold on the instrument. A way to think of this is that aliens from elsewhere in the cosmos mutated my DNA with light and implanted my psyche with the language system. If the literal sound of that is too much for you — well, it is a poetic metaphor. I mean “where” is elsewhere except everywhere; this universe is layers and layers of dimensions that go through each other and external sound. The language you study — Bud Powell … Monk … Bill Evans — is only important to stimulate something that is hidden deep within you. The mind is an energy system that is infinite, so the deeper you dig into yourself the more you will encounter aliens.
At this point, the original tunes of mine, the standards and the pure improvisations are all of a piece. I sometimes warm up by playing tunes and some people who have watched me do that have enjoyed the way I play some “traditional” stuff by abstracting it and then modulating it completely into my own language as some type of pure abstraction. Also what I love about the tunes I’ve used here — “Where is the Love” (which I try to play with some soul), “Tenderly,” “Summertime’’ and “Naima” — is they give me cover to masquerade with the veneer of a jazz pianist. But, in essence, I am a cosmic pianist. I play the waves of universal energy and cohere them into interference patterns on the piano. Sounds pretentious? Well, what can I say? There is an element of truth to it.
Also at this point this is really, really my language. But some things do pop up here and there. Impressionism (both Debussy and Ravel) pop up a couple times. Monk and Bud always lurk somewhere as does the harmonic touch of Ellington. Neo-baroque makes an appearance, as does the Russian touch (Scriabin and Rachmaninoff?) Tristano says “hi” once or twice and the Cecil from Silent Tongues stumbles in for a brief second, but all and all this is pure Shipp. And that is Shipp not the other word that begins with “shi.”
So yes, this is my own cosmic landscape in form and content, what Sun–Ra might have called “painting pictures of infinity.” This landscape is a pianistic spaceship that is a cosmic generator, the sea of milk. I feel on this CD I’ve done everything I want to do on the instrument. There are always other things to explore but this recording brings to an end a certain cycle in my trajectory.
I’ve been to many places.
Matthew Shipp’s forthcoming solo piano release ‘I’ve Been Many Places’ is slated for release via Thirsty Ear in September 2014; feature photo by Thomas Sayers Ellis.