“Is it jazz? Is it hip-hop?”
J-Live poses this question during his appearance on Dubtometry, and the answer is made clear repeatedly throughout the album: it is neither. But it is good.
Last fall’s Optometry found Matthew Shipp’s insomniac quartet reworked by electronic wunderkind DJ Spooky. On Dubtometry, DJ Spooky revisits that work with a group of electronic artists — in essence, to remix a remix of a jazz album.
As one would expect, a product that’s two generations removed bears almost no resemblance to the original. There is little to no jazz on this album, so don’t buy this with the intentions of using it for mood music during a romantic candlelit dinner. Any album where Lee “Scratch” Perry belts out “I am a monkey … I used to ride on a donkey” is probably not fit for such duty.
Spooky does offer a miniscule jazz teaser, as the first track contains a short piano loop. It is short-lived, lasting only fifteen seconds before Alter Echo’s remix kicks in. Even the “Dub” in the album’s title is a misnomer, as this first song is the only one that resembles dub here. From there we venture into DJ Goo’s “Ibid vs. The Mohican”, a pounding rhythm that sounds like it came from David Holmes’ “Let’s Get Killed.” J-Live’s fantastic hip-hop venture is next, as he proves again why his 2002 effort All of the Above was one of the best hip-hop albums released all year.
The music bounces all over the place throughout the album, from dub to ambient to hip-hop and everywhere in between. The plodding “Variation Cybernetique” remix by Twilight Circus is atmospheric techno at its most tedious, but it is quickly nullified by the afro-house energy of Colorform’s repackaging of “Sequentia Absentia.” DJ Goo once again recalls David Holmes’ bouncy organic beats, but uses them to support the longest stretch of uninterrupted performance from Shipp’s quartet — just enough to leave his name in the credits, I suppose.
As confusing and disjointed as this all might sound, Spooky’s pervasive oversight somehow manages to congeal these disparate influences into a unified whole. Spooky’s academic approach to music often coats his work with a cold, inhospitable quality, and some of that is occasionally reflected here. But when giving shape to the raw material of others, his style provides the album with a logical spine. His only misstep is leaving a 20-second ode to the United Nations sung in operatic style tacked on to the end of Alter Echo’s tremendous interlude (perhaps the finest beat on the album). I can’t even describe how out of place it sounds. Twenty of the longest seconds I have ever experienced.
Misplaced politics aside, Spooky serves as our virtual tour guide through the future of electronic music. It is not yet fully realized, but it’s a welcome preview. The album ends with the scratch of a turntable, and by this point, we’re not quite sure where we started or how we got to this point. But thanks to DJ Spooky’s unwavering guidance, we’ve got music. And it is good.