The integration of DJ culture into jazz was inevitable. But then, Jazz has always adopted popular forms of music. For instance, it took on rock in the 1960s with much debatable results. There is good fusion and bad fusion, as with all forms of jazz it comes down to creative ideas and musicianship. As jazz and hip-hop have attempted mergers in the past, the results have been either a sore thumb approach (the DJ stands out without integrating) or the jazz musicians are merely window dressing for a rapper’s stage show.
It has taken some time for both sides to get comfortable and find a common language. New Recordings by Uri Caine Bedrock 3 (Winter & Winter) and Medeski, Martin, & Wood Uninvisible (Blue Note) have featured a DJ as part of the band and not a sideshow.
Coming from a different context, Optometry is a DJ led session that merges seamlessly with jazz musicians. Perhaps an instant classic, it smashes through many genres while remaining loyal to all.
The disc opens with the beat heavy “Ibid, Desmarches, Ibid.” Bassist William Parker walks a chest pounding bass line with Joe McPhee applying high voltage saxophone juice. By the time Guillermo Brown’s drum break hits, your hooked. While this record is about a vibe, it really isn’t about beats. DJ Spooky applies just enough thumps to keep this outing fresh, preferring a live drummer to the mindless predictability of the drum machine. The guts here are the musicians; Matthew Shipp, William Parker, Guillermo Brown, and Joe McPhee doing their outward thing in the context of these street sounds.
It this jazz? Yes. Sound Collage? Certainly. The guests heard here include High Priest from the Antipop Consortium, Napoleon of Iswhat?!, and Carl Hancock Rux to provide vocals for three tracks. But certainly the outstanding feature here is the music. Guest violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain fiddles when Spooky burns a Billy Martin sample into a post Herbie Hancock buzz on the title track. Pianist Matthew Shipp, playing acoustic piano, shows he is up for this new world order, alternately playing two-handed energy lines and filling in eerie passages on the chamber pieces and soundscapes.
If this type of collaboration is the future of free jazz and DJ culture, count me in for the revolution.