Cosmic Lieder is a fascinating blend of intellectual wizardry and emotional whimsy from pianist Matthew Shipp and alto saxophonist Darius Jones. Their baker’s dozen of duets, banished of avant-garde clichás, proceeds with the formality and improvised innovations of a judo match, influenced as much by the alternately sleek and woolly fantasia of DC Comics (the source of many of the song titles) as from the clinical precision of Euroclassical music and the experimental zeal of “outside” jazz.
Shipp, the elder and more renowned player in the pair, seems to prefer the role of reactor here, variously refracting, absorbing and steering Jones’s forays with fascinating ingenuity and aplomb. Few pianists are more adept at framing dense, low-end chords in multiple contexts through timing and intonation, and the variety of moods and tonal and timbral contrast of Shipp’s piano with Jones’s alto is one of the collection’s bedrock rewards. Jones, whose 2009 release, Man’ish Boy, was one of the great jazz debuts of the past decade, has a slightly nasal, penetrating keen reminiscent of Albert Ayler, but there is as much percussive shadow-boxing on these tracks as there are long notes stretched over Shipp’s rumbling undertow. None of the 13 songs reach four minutes, amounting to a stimulating mosaic that roams from the classical discipline at the beginning of the opener, “Bleed” (which indeed leaks into more dissonance and scampering as it unfolds), to the call-and-response across a yawning gulf on the closer, “Geh-Jedollah.” Surprisingly accessible while remaining packed with invention, this collaboration seems destined to grow in stature over time.