Darius Jones and Matthew Shipp – Cosmic Lieder (2011)

Photo source: http://www.aumfidelity.com

Going from unknown two years ago to co-leading a duet record with Matthew Shipp is a meteoric rise in the avant jazz world, much less any world, but that’s just what alto saxophonist has accomplished in this short time frame. In the fall of 2009, Jones released his debut album, the critically praised Man’Ish Boy. I managed to miss out on that one, but stumbled upon him on two occasions last year when examining new releases by his thrash-jazz band Little Women, and as a member of Mike Pride’s From Bacteria To Boys. Jones is slated to have his second solo album later this year.

But first, there’s that one-on-one session with Shipp, Cosmic Lieder, which is out today on AUM Fidelity.

Time sure flies. It didn’t seem that long ago that Shipp himself was the hot young player emerging from David S. Ware’s band on his way to becoming his generation’s most important pianist in avant garde. In a way, Cosmic Lieder is the next logical step after his solo piano project 4D (2010), but that album, a very revealing look at Shipp’s piano playing at its most personal, was very inward looking. On Cosmic Shipp takes on a reactive role, responding to phrases tossed out by Jones, and he always seems to know where Jones is going. Indeed, there’s no need to rely on Shipp’s effusive comments praising Jones to know how much he respects and admires the newcomer’s art; it’s there in the deference he gives his younger partner in allowing Jones to fully express himself.

The CD clocks in at only around forty minutes with no track longer than 4:06, but the conciseness is part and parcel to the overall approach about this record. Ideas are dwelled upon, not over-dwelled, and then they move on to the next one. The discreteness gives each track a clearer identity. Avant garde jazz? Perhaps more like improvised classical for some of these compositions (all of which I surmise were at least partially created on the spot by Shipp and Jones). The mood simmers, stews and flows almost like a chamber piece. There’s hardly any real bop vocabulary in either participant’s expressions, and that’s where you find the freedom, instead of playing dissonant just for the sake of being dissonant. The first couple tracks are the most melodic, and it’s clear from these tracks what the fuss is over Jones’ alto. His tonal footprint is voluminous, soulful and expressive. He holds out notes and wavers them to give them a human element, never crossing over into uncontrolled primal displays; this is a fully developed talent.

As the proceedings start to turn dissonant on the third cut, “Zillo Valla,” Jones is even more effective, replacing melody with pure emotion, but a purposeful emotion. The prepares the listener for a deeper dive into chaos with “Multiverse” and the sparse, incidental notes on “Mandrakk,” in which Shipp creates strategic placed spaces between notes to contrast against Jones’ drawn out notes. Jones and Shipp chase each other with a trail of clipped notes in “Motherboxxx” and the altoist gets loud and boisterous for “Nix Uotan,” while Shipp hints at playing a conventional swing melody on “Jonesy” only to pull away into free jazz just as he gets going. Jones is in on the trick, though, and plays along with it with good anticipation.

Any new release with Matthew Shipp’s name on it is worth investigation these days, but with this true collaboration of equals points to the need to give Darius Jones’ recordings the same kind of attention. I may have missed his first record, but I don’t intend on missing his second one later this year.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. Contact him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews.com.