DJ Spooky has been around for quite some time and has collaborated with so many people already that he seems like just about the most logical choice of electronic musicians to throw his hat in the ring on the Blue Series Continuum series on Thirsty Ear Records. Conceived around the beginning of this year by label-head Peter Gordon, the idea for the series was to get musicians who might not play together ordinarily to hook up and create new work that hopefully breaks down conventions. The series started out with The Blue Series Continuum - Masses in which Spring Heel Jack mixed up experimental soundscapes with a seasoned band of jazz artists.
Most of those same batch of artists are back for this installment, and it includes Matthew Shipp on piano, William Parker on bass, Guillermo Brown on drums, and Joe McPhee on sax and trumpet. DJ Spooky adds upright bass, kalimba, and turntable action, and while the results may not break down conventions, it does provide a heaping helping of interesting music. The result is also something that fans of DJ Spooky might not quite expect, because it's different than some of his other collaborations (including his work with the Freight Elevator Quartet on File Under Futurism) in that he isn't the one providing the majority of the percussive elements of tracks.
While there are definitely moments on the disc where it feels a touch more electronic, Optometry is much more grounded in a traditional band feel, with Brown anchoring things on drums and DJ Spooky providing a sturdy bass framework to layer other sounds on. Found sound of a bustling city opens the release on "Ibid, Desmatches, Ibid," but soon the rhythm section of the above two takes solid control with a swaggering groove before McPhee adds some sweltering sax and Shipp goes crazy on the ivories. After the ambience of "Variation Cybernetique Rhythmic Pataphysic (Part II)" rolls (with some spooky violin added by David Bernard Roumain), one of the cooler tracks on the disc rolls with "Asphalt (Tome III)." Coming off his excellent appearences on David Holmes' Bow Down To The Exit Sign, Carl Hancock Rux adds some silky-smooth baritone spoken-word lyrics to the toe-tapping track.
On the epic-length album-titled track "Optometry," the group stretches things out while really exploring the open spaces of their different talents. Running along in free-jazz mode for some time, Spooky loops an acid-squiggle while Roumain adds violin and Brown is all over on the kit. Eventually, things lock into a funky groove and everyone again gets their chance to strut some stuff with a solo before the track winds down. "Rosemary" arrives as one of the most 'electronic' sounding tracks on the disc, clicking along with a sputtering, filtered drum machine beat and squiggling alien chatter while a touch of sax and drums creep in occassionally to keep things from sounding too cold.
Overall, the disc doesn't move in a lot of directions that either DJ Spooky hasn't done before (Shipp explored some of the same territory on his recent Nu Bopp as well), but it's still a very interesting collection of tunes and the collaboration comes off like everyone's been playing together for some time. At 74 minutes, there's a lot of things going on and definitely a bunch to digest, but there's plenty to be rewarded with. Somewhat along similar lines as Squarepushers electronic/fusion/jazz/whatever release of Music Is Rotted One Note, it's a crossover disc with enough from either camp for listeners to enjoy.