Show becomes ‘journey’ of jazz

Michael Bisio returns to Olympia for improvisational show he says is a ‘mysterious process’ with collaborator Matthew Shipp

Contributing writerJanuary 24, 2014 

Michael Bisio and Matthew Shipp

What: Bassist Michael Bisio, a former Seattle resident who played with Olympia’s venerable Obrador for a few months, and pianist Matthew Shipp will play an improvisational concert as part of The Washington Center for the Performing Arts’ Black Box Jazz Series.

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Where: Black Box at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia

Tickets: $17 for adults; $15 for military

More information: 360-753-8586 or

Age limit: The Black Box Jazz series is for ages 21 and older only. When bassist Michael Bisio and pianist Matthew Shipp get together, audiences can expect the unexpected.

The improvisational jazz duo will play Saturday night in Olympia as part of The Washington Center for the Performing Arts’ Black Box Jazz Series.

“The music is almost entirely improvised,” Bisio said in a phone interview. “We just start and shape where it goes. It’s a mysterious process.”

In other words, it’s just a ride, and Bisio invites audiences to come along for it rather than sitting on the sidelines.

“Everybody is part of it,” he said. “It’s about the journey; it’s not about the destination. If everybody’s on board, that journey is much more beautiful.”

And the journey flows throughout the concert. “We really do perform in a suite kind of way,” he said. “Although they might have silence in them, the sets don’t have pauses where you might say something about the next tune.

“We generally just begin at the beginning and end at the end.”

Both musicians also are composers, so perhaps this approach is no surprise.

“A classic composer has a year or more to write 15 seconds of music,” Bisio said. “An improviser has 15 seconds to write 15 seconds of music.”

He and Shipp, who also play together in the Matthew Shipp Trio, both are skilled at that art.

“Matthew and I hear each other very well,” Bisio said. “We have similar aesthetics and similar backgrounds in music. Whatever we’re hearing at the time is what we play.

“All the practice we’ve ever done, all the traditions we’ve ever loved and studied are what we bring to the table. Those are the tools, but the journey is everyone present.”

The trio, with drummer Whit Dickey, has been well recognized for its artistry.

“They are the hot group in New York,” said Michael Olson, who books the series and plays drums in Climate Change. “They did a European tour and played all the major festivals.

“They’re really amazing musicians, and they are right at the pinnacle of modern music. It’s a really special thing that we are able to get them in the Black Box series.”

That brings us to Bisio’s Olympia connections.

The bassist lived in Seattle for three decades before returning to his hometown of Troy, N.Y., and during that time, he played in Olympia at the Spar and played with Olson both in Obrador, where he filled in for bassist Steve Luceno, and in a band called simply Mike.

One of his early musical mentors was trumpeter Barbara Donald, who lived in Olympia from the 1980s until her death in 2013.

And while Bisio has played in the Northwest nearly every year since he moved back east in 2005, he’s excited to be playing in Olympia again.

“This one is very special,” he said. “I haven’t seen Michael since I left, and he’s a great good friend as well as a wonderful musician.”

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