Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"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." BassistWilliam 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." -AllAboutJAzz
"Thirsty Ear's Blue Series surges onward in a futuristic mode with this latest installment, featuring turntable guru DJ Spooky's melding of EFX, rap, funk, free jazz and more. Drummer Billy Martin of Medeski, Martin & Wood notoriety chips in, along with an artist known as "Priest" and a conglomerate of New York City based modern jazz heroes.
We get to hear the great improvising saxophonist Joe McPhee blowing soulful lines atop pulsating rhythms and pianist Matthew Shipp 's three-chord melody on "Ibid, desmarches, ibid." Essentially, this outing is awash with funkified backbeats, bottom heavy rhythmic sequences, trip- hop patterns, and free-jazz gyrations. The DJ provides emphasis and background treatments throughout, while utilizing his laptop, turntable and acoustic bass. Bassist William Parker injects his signature style via booming ostinatos, while the band melds a complex outlook with densely populated frameworks.
This release also includes some off-color rap that hearkens notions of a dysfunctional urban society. However, Shipp serves as the catalyst as he provides a plethora of memorably melodic motifs and jazzy right hand leads, while violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain incorporates a few sultry themes into the mix. The bottom line is that DJ Spooky and company take late '90s stylizations into the new millennium with a novel approach. Besides all of the fanfare and technicalities, this outing is an absolute blast and signifies one of the more successful excursions for this generally exciting label. Recommended...." -AllAboutJAzz
Rolling Stone (10/02, p.72) - 3 stars out of 5 - "...Richly textured..."
The Wire (7/02, p.53) - "...OPTOMETRY is a success in terms of both sound and vision..."
Personnel includes: DJ Spooky (acoustic bass, kalimba, turntables); Carl Hancock Rux (vocals); Napoleon (rap vocals); Daniel Bernard Roumain (violin); Pauline Oliveros (accordion); Daniel Carter (alto saxophone); Joe McPhee (tenor saxophone, trumpet); Matthew Shipp (piano); William Parker (bass); Guillermo E. Brown (drums).
Recorded at Sorcerer Sound and Mindswerve, New York, New York. Includes liner notes by Paul D. Miller (a.k.a. DJ Spooky).
Personnel: Napoleon, Carl Hancock Rux (vocals); Jack Walker (flute); Joe McPhee (alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, trumpet); Matthew Shipp (piano); Guillermo E. Brown, Guillermo Barreto Brown, Billy Martin (drums).
Liner Note Author: Paul D. Miller.
Recording information: Mindswerve, New York, NY; Sorcerer SOund, New York, NY.
Photographer: Cynthia Fetty.
Thirsty Ear's Blue Series has already been host to many progressive jazz projects, among them albums by William Parker, Matthew Shipp, Craig Taborn, Guillermo Brown, Mat Maneri, Tim Berne, and others. The label also did a project with British DJ drum'n'bass duo Spring Heel Jack that was neither a jazz album or a DJ record, but some strange amalgam unto itself. DJ Spooky's Optometry is the next installment in the Blue Series' DJ experiments, and it's one that succeeds on every level. For starters, Optometry is fully a DJ outing and fully a jazz record. The band playing with Spooky is comprised of Parker; Shipp; Brown; Medeski , Martin & Wood's Billy Martin; Joe McPhee; Carl Hancock Rux; and others. Spooky plays bass and kalimba besides his turntables and mixing board. He illustrates, collages, paints, spindles, cuts, and mixes a live performance by the rest of the band. On "Reactive Switching Strategies for the Control of Uninhabited Air," Billy Martin cascades snares and toms in counterpoint to his ride cymbal, setting up a rhythm that is followed by Parker and Shipp. Shipp's playing fleshes out the motif and makes it a modal stretch, and the time signatures fluctuate between four and eight, as Spooky dovetails -- à la Brian Eno -- various timbres and harmonics emitted by the individual musicians, as well as the quartet sound. Slipping keyboard washes in between Shipp's repetitive lines that are big enough for Parker to vamp crazily on, and putting distance in between various segments is the DJ's art here. The title track moves from abstract arpeggiattic saxophone striations by McPhee to phat, dirty, nasty, synth lines from Shipp, playing some combination of the funk in Sun Ra's Lanquidity and Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters. While this is happening, Parker pops and bows his bass to stay alongside the bottom end of the groove for a particularly disorienting effect, as it almost falls apart at the beginning of each chorus. Spooky samples all the proceedings and mirrors them back slightly altered while adding loops and found sounds to break down even the most innate structure in the tune so it has to be built according to memory. Whew! When the scratch attempts to do that, Shipp moves to his acoustic piano, and McPhee comes inside to refract Shipp's lines back to the rhythm section -- which includes Spooky at this point. And this goes on for almost 12 minutes. There is no let up in the creative vibe here; each member attempts to express for the collective. Spooky included. Riff, vamp, timbral fractures, lyrical tension, splintered harmonics, and a constant, seductive sense of groove permeate this jazz album, opening up a door onto a brave new future for a free jazz with soul -- Spooky has exceeded all expectations here. ~ Thom Jurek