Three years after its release, it's still difficult to believe that Cosmic Lieder, the duet offering from saxophonist Darius Jones and pianist Matthew Shipp, was literally their debut encounter. So creative in its spontaneous ideas and confident in its execution, it came off as an intuitive, intimate, exploratory dialogue between two veteran collaborators. Cosmic Lieder: The Darkseid Recital compiles a series of live performances from between 2011 and 2013. This isn't merely an extension of their deepening dialogue but an even more symbiotic exercise in spontaneous music creation: there is an absolute absence of hesitation in these pieces. The brief opener, "Celestial Fountain," showcases a triad of lithe dissonant chords from Shipp. Jones restates them momentarily and moves toward a lyric melody that offers the pianist further room to color them with middle- and lower-register arpeggios. In the more intense "2,327,694,748," the conversation (like the rest of the date) is completely moment to moment. Shipp states an idea and requisitely stretches its shape and sonance, finding its spaces, cracks, and pockmarks. Jones responds quickly and decisively, pushing it to the bleeding edge with his emotional honesty and innate improvisational intelligence. After Shipp's solo, the duo engage in exhilarating counterpoint. "Gardens of Yivaroth" commences with a near chamber music feel, but quickly and decisively transforms into a near processional. Jones speaks from the high register of his horn in near birdlike squawks that underscore the massive tonal implications in Shipp's chord sequence. The labyrinthine lyricism displayed by the saxophonist in "Lord of Woe," even in its explosive moments, is breathtaking; Shipp's signature ability to pull darkly beautiful notes from his own dissonant clusters and Jones' sprinted lines is revelatory. The haunting "Sepulchre of Mandrakk" is not without humor as a near Monk-like swing is hinted at in Shipp's introductory statement, which further extrapolatesthe pair's reach. Jones is so focused on underscoring each tone that he sounds like he's coming from the place of their origin. The piece changes rather dramatically to become a nearly martial exercise. Shipp's very physical repetition and restatement inspires a nearly chant-like response from the saxophonist, though a hint of Ellingtonian blues comes through him at the end. Speaking of blues, Jones brings them out of the gate in his earthy tone on "Novu's Final Gift." Shipp knows right where to go, inching, insinuating, and finally exhorting him to break them free of their frame, then following him as the pair engages in a thrilling exchange of free blowing and song form. Cosmic Lieder: The Darkseid Recital is the sound of peers who use improvisation to inquire about the nature of sound and song, but also as a form of discovery that confidently communicates by delivering a welcoming music with uncompromising sophistication, rigorous discipline and passion.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek