Matthew Shipp's duo recordings with saxophonists such as Ivo Perelman and Rob Brown have always been intriguing but his projects with Evan Parker are fascinating in their complexity and openness. The two master improvisers have teamed up twice before, beginning with Abbey Road Duos (Treader, 2007) and recorded several more albums together with the Spring Heel Jack collective. Leonine Aspects was recorded live in 2017 at the Festival Météo de Mulhouse in France. While Shipp and Parker have different stylistic approaches, they demonstrate the triviality of respective avant-garde and free jazz labels.
Leonine Aspects consists of two tracks, the first at almost an hour, the second less than four minutes. "Leonine Aspects #1" is a spontaneous suite whose episodes are segmented by several intermittent silences. Parker alternates between soprano and tenor saxophones during the respites, changing the overall mood of the piece. He and Shipp can be diametrically opposed in their dynamics and tone within the sections, but both are active listeners, neither undermining the other. Melody comes in fleeting phrases executed against a mostly atonal backdrop. "Leonine Aspects #2" incorporates much of the same logic but with more harmony of ideas and a hurried pace. Parker, on soprano, and Shipp, play in the higher registers giving "#2" an uneasy edge as unceremonious exchanges build to urgent conversations. Shipp and Parker don't brood in the darker passages and aren't capricious when the temperament lifts.
Shipp and Parker frequently explore intangible concepts, but when they push an idea, it isn't to the point of implosion. They often demonstrate the very breakability of their notions; there is no desire to deconstruct music built on such fine-spun foundations. In this uncluttered setting, the duo seems to heighten a mood, contrast it, and let it down gently while simultaneously raising new ideas. Leonine Aspects lets the listener hear that free improvisation can be both cerebral and very accessible.