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Album Review

Alto saxophonist Darius Jones has been on the New York scene for a few years now, and is best known in the context of his own trio and with the jazz-rock quartet Little Women. Pianist Matthew Shipp needs little to no introduction here. Together, this pair creates one of the most atypical dates on the Aum Fidelity imprint. Conceived as a 13-song cycle, the short pieces on Cosmic Lieder appear seamless; it would be difficult to pry any one piece away from the whole, though they are indeed separate "songs." The playing is somewhat restrained but deeply emotional. While not conventional in structure, many of these pieces feel like — even if they aren't — mini-tone poems. Shipp's continually inventive manipulation of chords for their color, sonority, and texture offers Jones a compelling palette to work with, as evidenced in the subterranean elements in opener "Bleed." In "Multiverse," counterpoint and interval become signposts of an infused journey to the outer limits of song. On "Mandrakk," Jones chooses all of his notes very carefully, navigating a microtonal course through all three registers as Shipp plays single notes and plucks the strings inside the piano to create a spacious, tonal ground. The fast back-and-forth in "Motherboxxx" takes the point of lyric origin on both alto and piano, and points them toward one another in a rapid dialogue that uses arpeggios and pointillism to navigate something that approaches a complex nursery rhyme in form. In "Jonesy," the saxophonist begins solo before Shipp's large chords add a lushness that creates an elegant yet bluesy backdrop, before the pair begin a knotty interplay in the middle tune that adds to that feel. Shipp's use of the piano's lower register in "Black Lightning" becomes a swirl of turbulent timbres for Jones, who blows hard, spitfire lines against it. This gives way to the wide open, mournful wail that introduces "Nix Uton." Jones' opening solo bleat is a feint, however; the tune itself becomes a lovely lyric investigation for Shipp as Jones transforms his role into that of an accompanist. The very brief "Geh-Jedollah" closes the album as mysteriously and as strangely as it began, with a ghost of a melody finding its place just as the tune whispers to a close. Cosmic Lieder isn't heavy or indulgent; it's deeply focused, curiously open-ended, and deeply satisfying. ~Thom Jurek, Rovi

Cosmic Lieder, Darius Jones
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