October 22nd, 2009
Following Peggy Lee and Saadet Turkoz at the Seattle Asian Art Museum Thursday night were Matthew Shipp on piano and Joe Morris on bass in a beautiful performance.
“f the casually curious observer were perusing Matthew Shipp and Joe Morris’s discographies, they might think they’d come upon a pair of potentially unnerved math/science-heads. Shipp’s “Harmonic Oscillator” and “Algebraic Boogie,” Morris’s more surreal “Stare into a Lightbulb for Three Years” and “Radiant Flux”: the tune titles suggest more than a hint of the experiment, of the long focus and aesthetic unreeling of new knowledge.
Indeed, that sense of discovery is what binds Shipp and Morris. They’ve found myriad ways to build their compositions and improvisations, each delving into dozens of musical configurations and always bringing to them a semi-singular voice that metamorphoses as they play in different contexts. And just as Shipp headed into almost-uncharted territory when he began curating Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series in 2001 and recorded with the Antipop Consortium, El P, and DJ Spooky in 2002 as part of the series, Morris continually re-drew himself into new bands that challenged his prevailing language and, eventually, switched from his first real instrument, guitar, to playing acoustic bass.
But we get ahead of ourselves.
For Shipp, the journey started when he was in Wilmington, Delaware, in his single digits, as a 5-year-old taking piano lessons. He progressed into a love of jazz at the turn of adolescence, and with that in mind headed to New York in 1984. It took him a few short years before Shipp recorded a set of duos with alto saxophonist, Rob Brown, and then a few more years before Shipp’s real first-move came out: Circular Temple, with William Parker and Whit Dickey. Released on post-Black Flag-era Henry Rollins’s Infinite Zero label, Circular Temple was a bold statement for its sheer thoughtfulness, its slow efflorescence, its unbending patience.
The way Shipp struck chords and notes, his narrative sense, these demonstrated one of the freshest sensibilities available. He wasn’t trying to stoke kinship with the energy clusters of Cecil Taylor, but Shipp found much to embrace in the overall sonics, the shadows and the echoes and the moods that Taylor and, say, Bill Dixon embraced. Quickly Shipp went on a tear, recording multiple albums almost every year from ’97 up to and including ’09. Trios, quartets, solo sets, duets, a dizzying 15 albums with tenor saxophonist David Ware, Shipp has been among the most tireless players. He’s found in-the-pocket grooves and energy bursts and cryptic abstractions all incredibly tantalizing.
Up in Connecticut, Joe Morris came to the guitar as a teen, playing gigs within his first year of playing. His jazz epiphany happened with John Coltrane’s Om, as unbridled a display of energy as any in the history of recorded music. Morris took his growing musical curiosities and headed to Boston, where in the 1970s he delved into free improvisation, spent the ‘80s starting his own label and releasing his albums, and then during the ‘90s created swirling, dense, and then crystal-clear (if nervy) guitar work alongside Shipp, Joe and Mat Maneri, Rob Brown, Eugene Chadbourne, et al.
Morris’s sound on guitar was sui generis, unlike anyone else. He had a meaty tone, free of distortion, and he had a mangled way of tying and untying knots, moving in long, sometimes loping, always tireless bursts of creativity. In 2000, Morris decided to play bass, too, making himself a guitarist’s bassist, someone who could weave rhythms as if they were harmonies. He’s played with Shipp for more than a decade, starting with the Morris ensemble set Elsewhere in 1996, moving to Thesis: Duos in 1997, continuing in ’09 with three separate sessions bringing the pair together. But the duo, that’s a level of intimacy and close listening that commands attention, and the Shipp/Morris pairing will do that ineluctably with this event.
From Peter Monaghan’s description in the Earshot Jazz Festival Guide.