Matthew Shipp and William Parker don’t get out much — they’ve been too busy recording some of the more interesting jazz/not-jazz records in recent years. The latest entry in Thirsty Ear’s relentless challenge to the tired fusion cliches of old again features the rotating cast of the Blue Series Continuum, this time supervised by production crew GoodandEvil, “who have worked with everyone from Medeski, Martin and Wood to C&C Music Factory.” Hearing these ominous words, some may fear crowds of Birkenstocks skipping through “Everybody Dance Now” with a top-notch horn section. But worry not, devoted listeners. While this album isn’t any sort of revolutionary call to arms, it is another quality page in the Thirsty Ear history, similar to Shipp’s Equilibrium and Spring Heel Jack’s last two efforts.
Still, it comes as a slight disappointment that The GoodandEvil Sessions do have a noticeable weakness, and it lies in the production. Opening track “Brainwash” features inspired minor-key electric keyboard runs by Shipp and basic horn harmonies sitting comfortably alongside wilder phrases by trombone duo Josh Roseman and Alex Lodico. But these quality performances are anchored by drum machine loops that sound too much like, well, drum machine loops. The solid groove enters, maintains, but alternates nowhere in order to satisfy one all-too-brief attention span. By contrast, the excellent “Then Again” coasts on a massive seven-note horn riff which holds a distinct rhythm of its own — its blasts drop like concrete blocks over Miso’s barely detectable turntable work.
“The Stakeout” doesn’t evolve so easily, with competent but uninspiring machine rhythms entering under children’s voice samples. Though Danny Blume’s heavily reverberated Tortoise guitar and Shipp’s barely-contained energies stand out, this track may very well have been recorded with the same equipment from the C&C sessions, circa…1991. For all the funds GoodandEvil have almost certainly earned throughout their illustrious career (Le Tigre, Northern State, the B-52’s, for godssake!), it seems they could afford some better quality electronics. Lots of these percussive pops sound like the sort of thing Beck plays for irony’s sake. Or maybe it’s those Kentucky fried Hot Boyz beats I’m recalling.
But this album is certainly not without its merits, and surprises wait in store for the patient. “Close Call” takes a brief, incredible detour into atonal barroom blues stomping before returning to its computer beats. “The Hideout” stands alone on the strength of Shipp’s infectious keyboard line and a delectable 1970 wah wah sample. Also compelling are the trumpet and trombones, fed with heavy digital delay, which emerge from the background to mirror the single piano riff. Energetic ragga/jungle backbeats flavor “On the Run” and the rousing “Roll it Back,” pushing their jazz sounds closer to the dance floor, but the acoustic elements — particularly Shipp’s jumpy high-register improv — still outshine the production team.
With The GoodandEvil Sessions, the Blue Series again takes big, admirable steps in shoes that feel a bit stiff now but promise to fit better with age. No one has really nailed the jazz-electro or hip-hop hybrids in a way that most listeners can relate to, but Blue Series’ incredible musicians move closer by the day. The most exciting thing about these albums is their open-mindedness toward collaboration — I’m itching to hear the new set from Matthew Shipp and El-P. And if I may fantasize publicly, consider these potential combos — Blue Series Continuum versus Four Tet, Cinematic Orchestra, Keith Fullerton Whitman/Hrvatski, Amon Tobin…stop me anytime. And how about an all-ambient date with Tim Hecker? Maybe Bill Laswell can get over his dub obsession…The releases are not perfect, but keep your eyes on this ragged group. They are about to silently explode.