Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Mail, Matthew Shipp, the Love Letters

Yesterday was a banner day for the mail. I received the October issue of JazzTimes (which has my profile of Sean Jones in it), a TIAA-CREF check and the John Coltrane CD Offering - Live at Temple University. Normally I would've ripped open the Trane disc, put the rest of my world on hold and started to listen to it. But about a week ago, I ordered the vinyl edition of it online, so I feel like I should hear it for the first time on record. I'm torn. Plus I have a couple albums to review by Monday so I feel like I should be listening to nothing but them right now.  

The week started with a performance in town by Matthew Shipp and Michael Bisio at the Frick Fine Arts Building on Pitt's campus. As usual for this town, it was sparsely attended but also as usual, these two guys were stunning. The last few times they've come to town, I've sat in a place where I can really see Shipp's hands on the piano, but this time I sat close to stage right, where the view was perfect. His arms move in a way that make it look like he's dusting off the keys as he plays. Sometimes they look like they're flailing, but they know right where to go.

The duo played for about an hour - one long series of tunes seguing into once another, with a short encore. It's clear that they're really tuned into each other after having played together for so long. Bisio could get inside of Shipp's sound and stretch it out, as Shipp played with a full-speed-ahead focus. Sometimes things flowed into the next tune, sometimes there was a great abrupt shift to the music which was exciting as well.

After the show, I ended up hanging out with the two of them, along with Manny and Nathan, who put on the show. Shipp has a reputation in print for being a firebrand, but seems like a pretty cool dude to me. Also of note was that Pitt's director of jazz studies, none other than Geri Allen, put in an appearance at the show. Anyone reading this outside of Pittsburgh might think that's cool but not exactly a big deal. Pittsburghers will know that her predecessor not only would not darken the door of a show like this, but he'd oppose any jazz show on campus that he wasn't involved with.

Thursday night, my band the Love Letters played a show at the Thunderbird Cafe. It was cool to be back there, especially since we made our official debut on that stage about five years ago. And we haven't been back since. (Not for any particular reason, other than we haven't pursued getting a show there since that time.)

We were third on a bill of three, which could have been a curse. Pittsburghers do best in the "coveted second slot" because the early arrivals are still there and a little liquored up, and the late arrivals have gotten settled in by that point. Slim Forsythe played first with a huge array of bandmates, including two singers, a trumpet player, a washboard man etc. They all managed to fit onstage and sound good, if a bit undermixed at times. Hellwood played next. They featured a core of cats from the Rickety scene, with a few relatively newer folks. Kind of eerie and spacey, with a solid rhythm section and some foreboding keyboards and vocals.

Then we got on. At this point, we're still a trio, but an impending fourth member was in the audience that night. He said he took notes on the songs we played and he later took the setlist too. We felt pretty tight and energized, despite the late hour. (I was exhausted early in the evening but rallied myself.) On the first song, my cables were giving me trouble but luckily I quickly remedied that before we continued. Another weird thing was that as I was switching out cables, I heard music emanating from my pocket. Somehow my phone had started to play the iTunes and Hospitality was blasting away.

It was kind of hard to see past the lights onstage, but what I did see was encouraging. A few people were dancing (something rare), a few were whooping and we even got called back for an encore. Next show is in November. In the meantime, we're working on getting the record released.

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