When Darius Jones made a memorable encounter with Matthew Shipp three years ago, the alto saxophonist was fast gaining notice as a unique voice as an emotional and intelligent improviser, the same attributes often ascribed to the pianist Shipp for the last couple of decades. Jones was already on the map but Cosmic Lieder put him squarely on the middle of it, and every recording of his since then gets a lot more attention. Yet, he still delivers, every time.
Jones and Shipp reconvene for The Darkseid Recital — going on sale August 12, 2014 by AUM Fidelity — and we approach this duo record already knowing that they’re peers. Not just peers, but comrades who share the same conception of jazz, one that’s based not on notes, scales, tonality or atonality, but on earnestness, beauty and impulse.
When music is made that way, there’s hardly a need for the preparation usually required for studio sessions and indeed, The Darkseid Recital wasn’t created there; it’s culled from live performances at New York’s Jazz Standard and The Stone clubs from 2011-2013. Since the perfect rapport between the two was immediately established the moment they began recording Lieder, the special allure of Recital comes from the added immediacy of performing and creating in front of live audiences.
Listening to the record, you’d barely know the audience was there, as crowd noise was largely mixed out to increase the focus on the performers, and perhaps because of that, it flows like a single gig. “Celestial Fountain,” though brief, fully discloses the grace and forlorn mood both musicians are capable of producing extemporaneously, and they continue down an increasingly unstable path as the two cross over into “2,327,694,748.” Shipp is left alone a while to fully articulate the evolving temperament before Jones jumps back in to add his howls at the right dosage. And then he matches Shipp’s staggered chase for notes, his sax acting as a third hand on the piano, the convergence between the two is that close.
Shipp sets the table for “Granny Goodness,” his staccato notes countered by Jones’ low, abrasive wails. “Gardens of Yivaroth” suggests what European chamber music might sound like if it was freed from constraints and composed on the spot; Jones summons up uncommon angst through the bell of his horn. “Lord of Woe” goes down a couple of diversionary paths before beginning a slow ascent to a dense, piano/sax primal scream. “Life Equation” comes down from the peak of that tumult to the sound of Jones’ extended notes providing a companion to Shipp’s tumbling chords. For “Sepulchre of Mandrakk,” Jones’ caustic squawks are followed by his signature trills.
There’s always unanticipated drama lurking just around the corner, even near the conclusion: “Novu’s Final Gift” begins with a lavish tone from Jones, who drops a grisly, dark underside with Shipp right in middle of that sumptuous discourse.
Unpredictability and real passion characterizes The Darkseid Recital as a whole, just as it did for Cosmic Lieder, but those things are magnified from doing it from the stage. That’s the perfect way to follow up on that earlier, acclaimed duet.