Matthew Shipp – I’ve Been To Many Places (2014)

As the latest in a strong string of solo piano albums for Matthew Shipp, I’ve Been To Many Places is intentionally reflective. Shipp surveys his decades-long career that took him through a notable stint in David Ware’s quartet, bold experimentations with electronics and countless collaborations with some of the best musicians the NYC Downtown scene has had to offer from the 90’s on, from William Parker to Darius Jones. And his own trio with Michael Bisio and fellow Ware alum Whit Dickey has done nothing but bring rare imagination and innovation to the whole piano trio concept. Instead of merely drawing inspiration directly from his influences, Shipp finds the insight for his music from himself, an earlier version of himself as interpreted by today’s version.

Recently, we provided a glimpse of what a Shipp-inspired Shipp record sounds like; “I’ve Been To Many Places,” the song, is a sonic sculpture that signaled his intention to dig deep inside himself to find the inspiration, and find quite a lot of it there.

Sometimes it’s apt to state that an instrumentalist has a human element in their style of playing when they can step outside of technical display and impart emotion. But that’s not an element with Shipp; it’s his essence. Shipp recently explained it this way: “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.” It’s found in the gusto he lends to “Where Is The Love, ” which isn’t how the script was written up when Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway convened to record the original but Shipp is conveying the impatience and frustration expressed all over the lyrics.

That essence is also present in his originals such as “Brain Stem Grammar,” where the ghost of Thelonious Monk is stalking in the darker, bluesier regions of the piano. “Symbolic Access” projects the calm, hopeful mood after a storm has passed. Shipp often makes the seemingly divergent “improvisational” and “modern classical” entirely compatible with other, and does it again on “Pre Formal.” And “Waltz” is indeed just that, which along with “Reflex” were culled from his string trio release Expansion, Power, Release (2001). In this naked format they represent his most alluring melodies of this set.

Most of the covers chosen for this endeavor are not just reinventions of their original or best-known sources, but reinventions of reinventions; Shipp had recorded these tunes many years earlier in different contexts. Now he addresses them in his present state of mind, and no song is rendered the same as before, nor the same way among them. “Summertime” begins straight — or as ‘straight’ as you’ll get with Shipp — before he regroups and strays off the melody, culminating with a dramatic trill before returning to that melody for the coda. He submerges “Tenderly” in a sea of shadowy meditation, allowing it to come up for air long just long enough to be recognized. John Coltrane’s “Naima” flows fluidly in his hands but stays true to core spirit of the song. Even “Where is the Love” is reimagined for a second time later on this album, the reprise moving slower and freely traversing inside and outside of the harmony’s parameters.

Coming September 9, 2014 via Thirsty Ear Records, I’ve Been To Many Places isn’t about the physical travels of an artist, but his musical travels that shaped him as one of the most truly unique figures in jazz of the last quarter century. You’re invited to ride alongside as Matthew Shipp looks back with one eye always looking forward.

Enjoy the ride.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.