Flying Lotus—a.k.a. Steven Ellison—accomplishes an unusual feat with Cosmogramma: The king of L.A.’s beat scene sidesteps his own obsolescence before the possibility can even be suggested. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Ellison is pushing his art forward—unlike some of his dubstep contemporaries, he’s never gotten mired in the quest for earth-shaking bass—but his third album is one of the most musical and inventive to fly the electronica banner in years. It’s easiest to imagine Cosmogramma as one fluid mass in which effects-riddled blap, drum-and-bass, house music, and hard jazz swirl in endless, gravity-free iterations. Ellison, the nephew of Alice Coltrane, makes good on his storied lineage by bringing in a host of virtuosic instrumentalists to contribute to that soup. Harpist Rebekah Raff drapes a shimmering veil over “Recoiled,” “Drips,” and several others. Bassist Thundercat executes rapid runs that’d put Squarepusher to shame on “Pickled!” and “Zodiac Shit.” Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, string arranger for OutKast, adds cinematic depth to “A Cosmic Drama.” Cousin Ravi Coltrane even stops by to lay some Charlie Parker-inspired figures over a bit of digitally derived bop.
But FlyLo doesn’t sit back and watch. Even Thom Yorke’s high, soulful keening on “…And The World Laughs With You” is absorbed into the stew, sampled, pitch-shifted and sent echoing back. For his part, our interstellar conductor deals out weightless reveries, whirling dissonance, head-nodding groove, and four-on-the-floor thump all while adhering to jazz’s singular energy and spirit. But Cosmogramma is not simply beat music for the Sun Ra set. Flying Lotus reaches into the past in order to create something clearly of the future – a hybridized work that challenges others to follow its dazzling blueprint.