In "Quivering with Speed," on Matthew Shipp's new album, Piano Vortex, the pianist launches into John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" in the middle of a solo. For most jazz musicians, this wouldn't be unusual, since Coltrane is a touchstone for all manner of improvisers. But for Shipp, the reference comes out of left field, as his fast lines tumble over Joe Morris' bass and Whit Dickey's skittering drums. As quickly as it comes, it goes, and Shipp is probing another area. "I don't know how that happened," Shipp says of the 'Trane quote, with a laugh. "There are times when stuff just pops up. You listen to a playback and you think, 'How did I get here?' So that's what's really cool about this."
Shipp is referring to his brand of improvisation, which could be called free jazz, since bar lines and rhythms often fall by the wayside. But that doesn't neatly capture Piano Vortex. For instance, the melody of "Keyswing," also on the new album, keeps changing shape, but maintains a bluesy basis similar to hard bop-funk patented by Bobby Timmons. A few years ago, Shipp was at the forefront of a style dubbed "jazztronica," which combines improvisation with cut-and-paste DJ techniques. And until this year, he was a 15-year veteran of the David S. Ware Quartet, an enduring group known for both its free intensity and almost spiritual way with ballads. If a description of Shipp is required, "forward thinking" might work best: It's generally accurate, and requires that someone listen in order to really get an idea of what he does.
Piano Vortex's trio session follows One, last year's first-ever Shipp solo disc, itself preceded by the electronic Harmony and Abyss. Shipp says the different settings capture him at a given moment, but are all interconnected. "I'm trying to say that there are a lot of different pieces to the puzzle, and at one time I'm into a certain thing," he explains. "I was playing a lot of solo gigs when One came out, so I was really into that mindspace. But the freedom I gained playing solo, I feel I can superimpose on this particular trio. For me, those albums are extensions of each other, even though one's a trio form and the other is a solo format." This week's appearance, at The Andy Warhol Museum, finds him solo, but he plans to draw on both albums during his performance.
Matthew Shipp with the Ben Opie Trio. 8 p.m., Fri., Oct. 5. The Andy Warhol Museum, North Side. $12. 412-237-8300.