Darius Jones & Matthew Shipp: The Darkseid Recital

In a solo setting, it can be a challenge to figure out whether Matthew Shipp is playing a composition or if the music is emerging from his fingers spontaneously. If the latter applies, he has an uncanny ability to chart a well-developed course with ease, never sticking on one path for too long before another avenue appears with more melodic options on the way. If he is playing a set of compositions, perhaps even more acclaim is in order, since his music continues to sound free while sidestepping the many clichés associated with “free jazz.”

I’ve Been to Many Places seems to bring all these angles together consciously, and the album’s biggest surprise is the brevity of the 17 tracks, all under five minutes, which could get Shipp some airplay where that option still exists. While originals like the title track and “Brain Shatter” offer dense chords to latch onto, Shipp’s covers are equally attention grabbing: “Summertime” becomes ominous, the melody of “Tenderly” will lead some to think they’re hearing a Shipp original, “Naima” sounds majestic. Another surprise: There are two versions of the Donny Hathaway/Roberta Flack hit “Where Is the Love,” the first a bright single-chorus trip, the second a slow, sinister reading.

The Darkseid Recital reunites Shipp with alto saxophonist Darius Jones, for a follow-up to 2011’s Cosmic Lieder. While that session marked the first collaboration between these likeminded players, the new disc comes from a series of live performances spread over two years in different New York venues. This music does not go down easily. Jones possesses a mastery of his horn’s entire range, which means he can potentially shatter glass with his altissimo shrieks. Shipp’s love of his instrument’s low end nearly drowns Jones out during one track.

At the same time, both players display an amazing musical telepathy throughout. Just when things seem a bit too excessive, they stop and back down. In many cases, the blast is followed by tranquility-or at least there comes a shift on Jones’ part to start growling in the middle register of his alto, retaining excitement without the grating high-end assault. The Darkseid Recital is not for casual listening, but then again, casual listeners don’t usually come this way.