Matthew Shipp: Blues Series Continuum: Sorcerer Sessions

Downtown music, so named because many of its practitioners ply their trade in the lower part of Manhattan, has been busting the barriers between genres for long enough that it may as well be its own genre of relentless barrier-busting. But if it’s no longer particularly ground breaking to combine jazz, classical, pop, electronica and everything else, the Blue Series Continuum’s The Sorcerer Sessions proves that, when wizards like Matthew Shipp are willing to bust even this genre’s boundaries, the combination can still make new and unexpected magic.

The Sorcerer Sessions features Shipp on keyboards and synthesizer, drummer Gerald Cleaver, bassist William Parker, violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain, clarinetist Evan Ziporyn and a man named FLAM who handles programming and synthesizer effects-all six major players on the scene, especially Shipp, who composed 11 of the 12 tracks here. Given that, it’s no surprise that they easily traverse tracks like “Urban Shadows” and “Reformation,” both of which are fun listens despite containing now-familiar elements: the claustrophobic drum-and-synth underpinning of “Urban Shadows,” Roumain’s grinding discovery of a motive in “Reformation.”

But most of the music Shipp conjures up here is quite surprising. “Pulsar” sounds something like a modern passacaglia, with monumental medieval-sounding chords from Shipp’s piano inspiring ecstatic melodic fireworks in the rest of the ensemble. On “Keystroke,” the clacking of computer keys and the tinkling of ivories cleverly play off each other while FLAM occasionally scatters both across the sonic spectrum. “Particle” finds Shipp dictating the musical rhythm with smashed slow chords as his bandmates use outbursts of melody and sound to try to accelerate and explode the texture. And, together, “Last Chamber,” a march with medieval overtones, and “Mist,” with ostinati from Shipp and long, supple lines from the other players, make an apt two-part ending for the album.

The Sorcerer Sessions casts its spell well, proving that even if it’s no longer shockingly new, there’s plenty of life in Downtown yet.