Courtesy of Matthew Shipp

Thirsty Ear


Splasc(H) Records


(November 21, 2002)

Matt Shipp's resume was strong yesterday. Today, add producer and label curator. Shipp is fronting the Thirsty Ear blue series and in the process taking jazz to new levels. This may piss off many and quite frankly, I hope he does. Shipp attracted the ear of Henry Rollins, who added Shipp to his otherwise, rock label. Should tell you Shipp has a little something something. Shipp sat down with me to talk about angering the jazz standard, about the direction he is taking the blue series, and his work with the Ware foursome, as always, unedited and in his own words.

FRED JUNG: What is the direction of the Thirsty Ear blue series?

MATTHEW SHIPP: Right now, we seem to be delving in the realm of free jazz meets DJ culture and it seems that that is going to continue in January. My next album, Equilibrium is coming out, which is pretty much a jazz album, but there is elements of beats and that type of production on it. After that, I am doing a collaboration with the rap group Anti Pop Consortium and then I'm doing a collaboration with El-P, the rapper. We will be continuing to do a few totally acoustic albums. We're talking to William Parker about his next album, which will be an acoustic jazz album. Other than that, there is a couple of other DJ projects planned and possibly another album that involves Mat Maneri and Craig Taborn. All in all, we seem to be delving into the DJ area.

FJ: Why?

MATTHEW SHIPP: (Laughing) It just seems that's the way things are going, Fred. And it has gained a momentum of its own. That is just where it is at right now.

FJ: The music is a no brainer for the new school that have been raised on a steady diet of Moby and Paul Oakenfold, but jazz has a formidable old guard. You're going to piss some people off.

MATTHEW SHIPP: Right, yeah, that is what I want to do.

FJ: And there is no hesitation.

MATTHEW SHIPP: No, that is the only way to move forward is to piss people off. Miles Davis is major proof of that. Throughout history is a major proof of that. The only way to move forward is to piss people off. You piss people off because of their preconceptions and their preconceptions keep an area stagnant. There is no other way to move forward than to piss people off.

FJ: Since we last sat down, you released New Orbit, which featured Leo Smith.

MATTHEW SHIPP: Right, right, yeah, we are thinking of trying to find other ways to move with Leo. I don't know if it is going to happen, but Spring Heel Jack, a group we work with, was talking about the possibility of an album with John Surman and Leo Smith. Leo is one of my favorite improvisers and I definitely am thinking about ways to utilize him. I know his own group has just recorded for Pi Records. That's the group with Malachi Favors, Anthony Davis, and Jack DeJohnette. He has a label for that group, but I would love to do something with Leo again, either my own music or one of his own projects.

FJ: David S. Ware Quartet mate, Guillermo E. Brown is on Nu Bop.

MATTHEW SHIPP: He's a young, drum and bass type of kid, even though he is a jazz drummer. He really comes out of this whole drum and bass culture. I wanted to use him for that project. Even though I am still using beat elements, I am trying to take it back for a real strong jazz base, so I just wanted more of a pure jazz drummer, so that is why I am using Gerald again. But for that one project, I kind of conceived it with him also, with Nu Bop. I had been talking with him a lot when I was on the road with S. Ware on the process of making an album like that because it is new to me. He taught me a lot about the whole process of it. I used him for that project.

FJ: Nu Bop included Daniel Carter as well.

MATTHEW SHIPP: I have an album on hatOLOGY called Strata that he plays on. That's an album with Roy Campbell, Daniel Carter, and myself, William and there is no drummer. And then there is another album on AUM Fidelity called Time is of the Essence, which is Other Dimensions in Music with myself. So I've done two albums with Daniel in the past.

FJ: Will there be a Daniel Carter Thirsty Ear session?

MATTHEW SHIPP: As a leader, probably not because he doesn't really conceptualize in the way that a leader does. He's a player and he likes to be in certain circumstances and play and that is what he does. Thirsty Ear seems to becoming more of a conceptual thing right now, other than a player's type of label. It doesn't seem like it as this point. Also, he kind of has a psychological space that doesn't really allow for the idea of a leader. He doesn't really want to be a leader of a band.

FJ: When I spoke with S. Ware, he hinted about maybe doing a project for Thirsty Ear.

MATTHEW SHIPP: How long ago did you talk to him?

FJ: A couple of weeks.

MATTHEW SHIPP: Oh, OK, because I have been talking to him about it. The prerequisite I've given him if he recorded, it was going to be a situation where the quartet recorded and that was source material and that was handed over to somebody else who was going to slice and dice it and go inside and it and build synthetic constructions based upon it. I just wasn't interested in a Ware Quartet album because there is fourteen others and we have done a lot. I have been talking to him about an album, but it wouldn't be like a regular album. There would definitely be studio manipulation and he was really kind of nervous and scared of that. I told him that if he doesn't feel comfortable, that he should do it, but if he does feel comfortable with it, that situation, it is certainly possible. We actually, when he said he wanted to do this Freedom Suite (AUM Fidelity), I thought that was a great concept for a Ware Quartet album because it kind of takes the Ware Quartet outside itself and so I had offered to do that on his label and I called Steven Joerg of AUM Fidelity, mainly because Joerg is a friend of mine and Joerg called up David and talked him into doing it on AUM Fidelity, so that didn't happen. But apart from a concept like that, that's totally different than anything the Ware Quartet has done, but I would definitely not be interested in a classic Ware Quartet unless it was something else.

FJ: DJ manipulation is a familiar mantra with the blue series via DJ Spooky and Spring Heel Jack, but is that improvisation?

MATTHEW SHIPP: Well, I don't really know how to define improvisation. Improvisation is not really making stuff up on the spot, although you can look at it that way. You're taking raw material and molding it. I think that it is just a further aspect of the creative process. It is somebody whose maybe particularly not a musician in the traditional sense of a musician, taking material and molding it using technology and that is a valid form of expression and a valid statement to explore. I guess it is improvisation because the people doing that is making quick choices or not so quick because he has a lot of time, but he is making choices and going with the moment.

FJ: Having said that, are DJs musicians?

MATTHEW SHIPP: Right, I can't answer that because I really don't know the answer to that. I'm just trying to keep an open mind to get to something new. I don't know, Fred. It depends on how you define things.

FJ: Has the label been successful?

MATTHEW SHIPP: Financially, Thirsty Ear is an established label, so as far as the blue series, certain releases have done very well. Right now, the DJ Spooky thing is not even a year old and we've already recouped on that. Our European thing has really opened up right now. We pretty much have all the territories finally right now that we were after. We're not even a year into the release and we've already recouped on that. My albums, every one sells twice as much as the one before and I started with my first album on the label was DNA, for the blue series. I now have three blue series albums and the one in January will be the fourth and every one has sold in six months what has taken a year to sell the one before. I basically recoup after a year, so nobody is buying houses and cars, but we are recouping and the label is growing.

FJ: As artistic director for the series, how much input do you give John and Ashley (Spring Heel Jack)?

MATTHEW SHIPP: The first album, Masses, was done kind of just talking to them. They came to me with the idea that they wanted to use my circle of people. That is why Mat Maneri, Daniel Carter, William, and myself, and I brought Guillermo in on that. Since we were doing an album with Tim Berne on the label, we decided to add him on that to give him more, to put him in this world more since he was doing his own album. So Amassed, the second one, they came to us with the idea of doing an album with a lot of the same tunes as Masses, but using European improvisers and they wanted me on electric piano. We told them to go ahead and use whoever they want and when they said Kenny Wheeler and Evan Parker, that was fine with me. Kenny Wheeler, the first Braxton group that Kenny Wheeler played in was one of my favorite groups in music history. And Han Bennink is a friend of mine. They understand where I'm at and their choices, I have never had problems with their choices. Like I said, their next thing is probably going to be with John Surman and that's fine with us.

FJ: Khan Jamal guests on Equilibrium.

MATTHEW SHIPP: Well, I don't remember, but I just met him around. I'm from Wilmington, Delaware and he's from Philly. He lives in Philly. By the way, Fred, he had a stroke recently. I don't know how he is doing. I know he is home from the hospital. But anyway, he said that he just wanted to play. I talked to him at the Knitting Factory and stuff when he was just hanging out and then I heard him, it was a night we did for the Vision Fest that wasn't the Vision Fest in January and it was a night where we got a bunch of players together and we kind of had a round robin where different people played with each other and he and I played and I decided then that I wanted to use him on a project, but it just took us two years for the situation to come about. I really like playing with vibes anyway. Oh, he called me to do a gig in Philly and Rob Brown and I went down and did a gig with Khan and Odean Pope a couple of years ago and that worked out pretty well. I was just buying my time until there was a situation where I could use him.

FJ: What is the release schedule for the series in '03?

MATTHEW SHIPP: We're working on that. We're working on some type of electronic thing with Craig Taborn. I just don't know when it's going to happen and how it's going to happen because originally, the idea was it would be a Craig Taborn recording, but Craig seems to have his own projects in mind, so this might be a co-thing. Mine is in January. Anti Pop Consortium is in February or March. The rest of the year, we don't have dates yet. It is just albums. There is eleven to twelve things, about fourteen things that are planned right now. I don't think we are going to put all fourteen out next year, but there is fourteen projects that are either being worked on now, in the works, or is just being conceived. I don't know what the timetable is. I doubt we're going to release fourteen albums in the year.

FJ: And you are still a member of the S. Ware Quartet.

MATTHEW SHIPP: Yeah, that's a big commitment. I spent years and a lot of time into working with David and I feel like a family. Even though, I am doing different things, I will always continue to play live with them. I see a point when I don't record with them, but even if that happens, I will continue to play live.

FJ: Are you exclusive with Thirsty Ear?

MATTHEW SHIPP: Yeah, the hatOLOGY thing was great, but I am getting so involved as curator and producer, I just figured that it is probably better. Do you have my solo album that I did on Splasc(H) Records this year?

FJ: Songs.


FJ: I have it.

MATTHEW SHIPP: Yeah, I might do one other thing with Splasc(H) and if I do that album, it will be myself, William and Guillermo Brown, the trio from the David S. Ware album doing a trio recording of David Ware tunes, but that will be for fun and stuff if I do that, but I am pretty much sticking with Thirsty Ear.

FJ: Your involvement with Thirsty Ear came as a result of your titles on Henry Rollins' label.

MATTHEW SHIPP: It happened because of it, 2.13.61, when Henry started that, he got a production and distribution deal through Thirsty Ear. So I met Thirsty Ear through Henry because they were distributing his label. What happened, the way I met Henry was I read an article in a magazine and in the article he talked about the fact that he was a jazz fan. He really loved jazz and had a big jazz record collection. I actually knew the writer who wrote the article and I ran into the writer and I asked if the guy from Black Flag was a jazz fan and he told me, "Yeah, he's a huge jazz fan. You should send him some of your stuff. He's a big Charles Gayle fan." So I got Henry's address and sent him Circular Temple, which was on my label at the time and he wrote me back and said that he wanted to work with me. That is how that started.

FJ: Tour dates?

MATTHEW SHIPP: I'm working on it. I've just been on the road a lot since this summer. I just got back from the London Jazz Festival a couple of days ago. I did a tour in Italy, so the rest of the year, I am kind of chilling out until January. Come January, I am working on a tour with my trio. In January, I am going on tour with Spring Heel Jack, an English tour and I have a bunch of dates after that in Europe with my trio and with the David S. Ware Quartet. I've been doing a lot of solo gigs recently. I like doing solo gigs a lot, mainly because I get to take home all the money. It is fun. I've had situations playing solo recently where I have been able to play on amazing pianos, utterly amazing instruments, so that has been a lot of fun. Great instruments really help. They make the job a lot easier.

FJ: There's a wall piano in my house you are welcome to play.

MATTHEW SHIPP: (Laughing) Yeah, I am trying to organize so stuff out there. You're in LA. I don't know if I will come to LA. I am trying to do a West Coast tour. Han Bennink is going to be on the tour and I've played with Han Bennink live once in a duo. He did a duo festival at the Knitting Factory, where he did different duos with everybody and I was one of them. I've never played with Evan Parker live, so I am really looking forward to that.

FJ: You can add curator and producer to your resume.

MATTHEW SHIPP: Yeah, I am trying to move forward however much the environment you're in allows you to move forward.

Fred Jung is the Editor-In-Chief and we'll leave a light on for you. Comments? Email Him