At age 50, Matthew Shipp boasts one of the most prolific, consistent and challenging catalogs of any musician in his or her field. The pianist’s brain seems to fire on all cylinders all the time, and two new releases present three different contexts in which to examine his playing in its current state.
Alto saxophonist Darius Jones debuted as a leader for AUM Fidelity two years ago, and his highly original sound and improvisational approach make him a good match for Shipp. The 13 tracks on the duets project Cosmic Lieder sound like spontaneous inventions, but both men play pointedly and empathetically, and when they lock into a rhythmic groove it is especially rewarding. The album begins slowly, with a few pensive tracks, rather than leaping straight into unfettered free territory. Jones has a startling command of his instrument, using its upper register to imitate an oboe on “Zillo Valla.” He builds on long tones in several tracks, which Shipp blankets in arpeggios or bits of thunder. Of course the album contains many instances of wild blowing, the best coming in “Black Lightning.” But the wide variety of sounds these two explore is what makes the session engaging in its entirety.