Matthew Shipp and Guillermo E. Brown: Odd Couple
“ [Shipp] gathers influences and references from classical and modern composers, bebop and free jazz into his rich musical language--all filtered through his idiosyncratic syntax. ”
Tel Aviv, Israel
Oct. 26, 2005
It was supposed to be a meeting between long-time partners. Pianist Matthew Shipp is the curator of Thirsty Ear's Blue Series, the imprint that released drummer and electronics player Guilllermo E. Brown's 2002 debut disc, Soul at the Hands of the Machine. Both are members of David S. Ware's highly esteemed quartet and frequent contributors to bass giant William Parker's various projects. Brown has guested on Shipp releases including Nu Bop (Thirsty Ear, 2002) and Sorcerer Sessions (Thirsty Ear, 2003). But after the show you could understand why Gerald Cleaver is Shipp's drummer of choice on his recent projects.
Brown came armed with a laptop, mixer, portable drum machine, turntable and mike. No drums. From the very beginning it was clear that he wanted to lead the show. Shipp began with beautiful Chopin-esque chords, but Brown answered with a series of unfathomable groans and murmurs, appearing not to notice Shipp's attempts to communicate. There was a brief moment when Brown seemed to manipulate and sample Shipp's sounds with his array of electronic gizmos, but it did not last more than a few seconds. Shipp tried again to establish a channel of communication with a set of simple repeating chords, but now the hyperactive Brown was glued to his drum machine, wearing it as if it were a guitar. That machine produced synthesized rhythms that seem to emerged from some forgotten pop productions. This vintage instrument was the main axe of Brown throughout the evening, and he was obsessed with its disjointed and arbitrary beats.
At this point Shipp gave up his attempts to get in touch with Brown, who was orbiting in his remote universe. Shipp did a majestic deconstruction of George and Ira Gershwin's "Summertime," demonstrating all the reasons for his genius. He gathers influences and references from classical and modern composers, bebop and free jazz into his rich musical languageall filtered through his idiosyncratic syntax. The almost trite standard sounded fresh and exciting throughout its more than twenty minute duration. Brown was still busy with his childish pranks, loading brutal feedback and primitive techno beats on Shipp's refined and sophisticated interpretation. For an encore Shipp improvised on a beboppish melody, and only then Brown did a faint attempt to establish the much needed musical rapport with Shipp. Brown use of the drum machine was more relaxed and restrained, but still marred Shipp's mature and eloquent playing with bland and shallow beats.
It would have been a great concert if someone had unplugged Brown from his gizmos and/or stuck a pair of drumsticks in his hands.