By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
|Photo by Laurie Stalter|
"You've consumed the body and blood of a god, and therefore you're becoming one with a god," says Shipp on the phone from New York. "That alchemical magic really informs how I think of music."
Though Shipp is making a change, it's not like he's getting nailed to a cross. He'll continue to be a member of saxist David S. Ware's torrential quartet. He'll keep touring, and is even now booking nationwide gigs with bass dominator William Parker, his duo partner on the 14th album Shipp has led since 1990, the new DNA. Shipp calls DNA both a final installment and, tellingly, a cornerstone -- not the capstone -- of his career.
"I don't want people to see me as a machine," he says, his voice gravelly, casual, with a low chuckle always ready to break out. "I've done a lifetime's work in a short period of time, so I really feel the need to step back and assess things. I'll still be playing a lot, but if I do get another record contract and go back in the studio, I'll do it with a fresh perspective."
Shipp has picked a good moment to focus our attention on his achievements. And while we're focusing, we might as well also take a look at the fearsome Mr. Parker, and at a new Roscoe Mitchell recording in which both Shipp and Parker contextualize their roots.
SHIPP HAS BECOME A BEACON OF HOPE AND renewal for jazz's avant-garde, which has been more or less submerged for 30 years; a new generation of collegiate ears has swiveled toward this dude with the rad sound. Part of the appeal has been Shipp's warm freshness, part the fact that three of his mid-'90s releases were on Henry Rollins' 2.13.61 label. And part might just be the times: College-radio playlists are featuring more "free" jazz than they have in a quarter of a century.
In spite of his place in a tradition characterized by energy, noise and rhythmic abandon, Shipp never plays for more than a minute without offering a generous serving of that indefinable quality called melody.
"I don't see any other way to structure a musical event that seems organic to my personality," he says. "Lyricism even goes with the abstract quality of it. Jackson Pollock is lyrical. Even if you're gonna bust a hole through the canvas, you gotta do it with some type of grace."
As befits a recording he sees as a summation, DNA takes an especially considered approach. "I was thinking about being spacious," says Shipp. "It's just strings and wood -- it lends itself to giving people a chance to breathe."
As he often does, Shipp also adds a conceptual theme. "With a musical composition, you're usually dealing with a basic cell that expands, just like a body. And I'm dealing with the idea of going back to your roots, trying to find out who you are."
Hence DNA. The CD's alpha and omega tracks are fairly straight readings of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again" and "Amazing Grace" -- the embryo laid bare. In between, Shipp's personal abstraction reigns. But is it abstraction, really? Take "Cell Sequence," whose wide-open spaces are broken by twitching "points of sensation," as Shipp calls them; adjust your inner vision, and you can imagine animalcules. The hectoring circular riff of "Orbit" could represent either the microcosmic whirl of electrons, or the cosmos itself -- the composition feels like one of Sun Ra's galactic-travel epics. "Mr. Chromosome" balances scientific repetitions with occasional blue-noted passages that spring straight from the soil.
But where the biochemistry really subdivides is in the piano's interaction with the acoustic bass of 14-year friend and collaborator Parker. "William is like a rock," says Shipp. "He's one of the most focused, solid people I've ever met. He just rises above everything."
The two play as parts of the same body most of the time, but they can also dance apart, as on "Genetic Alphabet": Shipp doesn't even enter till Parker has put on an extended exhibition of superchording, his string overtones now and then imitating feedback; the bass ushers the piano in with grave orchestral bowing; they switch clefs (Parker screeling high, Shipp rumbling low); at last the bass fades out like a squeaky bicycle wheel after a bad spill. Bravo.
PROLIFIC AS SHIPP MAY BE, PARKER CAN'T BE FAR behind. Long a bulwark of avant-garde bass with Cecil Taylor, Charles Gayle and many others, he's been leading his own unstoppable In Order To Survive quartet for several years now; his last two headlining CDs for the AUM label were both doubles. And his latest, Lifting the Sanctions (No More), is his second solo-bass recording in the last four years.