Let’s face facts. Western youth culture is either fast losing or has already completely lost its taste for classical music. I think the same can largely be said for jazz. To most of the MTV generation, each genre demands too much attention, reeks of stodginess and suffers from duration problems — the songs last too long and aren’t sound-bitey enough. To members of this same generation raised on hip-hop and electronic music, much of the music from each of these vast universes has felt cliched and trend-dominated for years now. So what would happen if classicism was fused with jazz, which was fused with beats and laptop programming, all executed by musicians who were smart and technically outstanding?
Welcome to the Blue Series Continuum’s Sorcerer Sessions, the second album by a rotating cast of musicians under this moniker. Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series artistic curator and ubiquitous performer Matthew Shipp and bass badass extraordinaire William Parker are the constants, and the “band” has incorporated big names like DJ Spooky, Daniel Carter and Tim Berne. So the best guess would be to presume that the Blue Series Continuum is something of a Blue Series all-star team of musicians fusing genres traditionally assumed to be disparate. Sorcerer Sessions gracefully combines neo-avant jazz Downtowners Shipp and Parker with Bang on a Can All-Stars’ clarinetist/arranger Evan Ziporyn, violinist/composer Daniel Bernard Roumain, synth programmer FLAM, and drummer Gerald Cleaver.
Like a lot of stuff on the Blue Series, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but somewhere in the weird world of Sun Ra meets Terry Riley, someone is going to like this album a lot. Unlike a lot of Blue Series recordings, Sorcerer Sessions feels explicitly antipop, despite songs that mostly clock in at less than four minutes. It is atmospheric, it resists the easy out of the pop song, its songs whisper and fade. Beats are picked up and discarded by Cleaver, Parker quits his angular bass lines long enough for a sound sample to drift through, and they fall out of time — together.
Sorcerer Sessions begins on a high note with the piano-driven “Pulsar,” a guilty pleasure in its pure beauty. Shipp’s triumphant bars sound typically great and typically dramatic, and are filled out gorgeously by Roumain and Ziporyn’s ethereal playing. Roumain’s screechy violin duels with FLAM’s spacey synth programming in “Particle,” but Roumain’s sound is dense with reverb, an obvious trademark of Sorcerer Sessions. What could easily be harsh is made layered and rich. “Last Chamber” is a (ironically?) poignant march led by Shipp, conjuring visualizations of a brow-knitting George W. Bush smiling paternalistically in front of an undulating flag on the FOX network.
Discussing these tunes individually is something of an empty exercise, as (in spite of the songs’ brevity) the album can’t really be understood unless listened to from beginning to end. Not that the songs don’t hold up on their own, they just make a lot more sense when heard as a body. While the Blue Series Continuum and the Blue Series musicians may not have nailed it yet and really made their true manifesto, they continue to crank out ballsy music that ignores arbitrary boundaries of right and wrong so ubiquitous not just in classical in jazz music, but in hip-hop, electro, rock, and every other genre they accent.