Categories
Music Reviews

Kevin Saunderson

Kevin Saunderson

History Elevate

Fabric

Having spent over two decades as one part of Detroit’s holy techno trinity (Juan Atkins and Derrick May being the other two), Kevin Saunderson is justified in releasing History Elevate, an epic two-disc set that flaunts both his hallowed remixes over the past 20 years and original productions that have been reworked by established peers and up-and-comers.

The first half of the first disc serves as a nostalgic trip back to the late ’80s techno revolution that Saunderson helped usher in. The Motor City innovator immediately revisits ’88 by splicing a “Blue Monday”-esque keyboard line and a breezy house backbone into The Christians’ “The Bottle” before segueing into Wee Papa Girl Rappers’ “Heat It Up,” his first ever remix and one where he fuses acid house with the Girls’ ESG-like vocal delivery. But after his frenetic, hi-energy take on Pet Shop Boys’ “Go West” — a seemingly daunting task considering the utter flamboyance of the original — Saunderson fast-forwards to his more current works which find the DJ engaging in darker, deeper house excursions. Current hot artists like The Presets and Hercules and Love Affair get the Detroit dance floor treatment, which from Saunderson’s perspective includes pulsating, yet muted beats, throbbing textures, and lush synth tremors.

Under the veteran’s capable hands, the transition between practically two eras of dance music sounds effortless, which could mean one of two things: either clubland hasn’t evolved much or Saunderson has pulled a sonic sleight-of-hand and deftly bridged the generational gap. I’m going to have to go with the latter because if the second disc proves anything, the artist’s influence on the techno scene has crossed over to current acts like Simian Mobile Disco. The English production team serves up a blistering, sweaty rework of “Big Fun,” one of several tracks from Inner City, Saunderson’s project with longtime cohort Paris Grey. Fellow techno pioneer Carl Craig quickly follows up the festivities with his version of Inner City’s “Till We Meet Again,” a hypnotic robo-disco anthem that should have your synapses working overtime.

While Saunderson’s earlier moments on History Elevate have aged in varying degrees, the overall effort is a hearty exercise through techno’s past and present. Whether you’re longing to revisit the dawn of rave culture or simply seeking a refresher course, you’ll likely find a satisfying space in between thanks to one of its most hallowed institutions.

Kevin Saunderson: www.kevinsaunderson.com

Categories
Music Reviews

James Hardway

James Hardway

Big Casino

Hydrogen Dukebox

While no Francois K., James (“The”) Hardway (nee David Harrow) has been around a mighty long time. Hell, Alec Empire refers to him as “The Godfather of Techno.” But a damned near 20-year career in the music biz teaches you a lot of things — good and bad. Fortunately, Hardway keeps the bad to himself and provides us with nothing but delicious goodness.

Living in London and having been a long-time resident of Berlin, Hardway seems to hover somewhere between France and Germany for his current sound. French house meets nu jazz with dashes of dub effects thrown in for good measure.

It is his spectral jazzy sound that haunts this album and captivates the listener. Big Casino is a mesmerizing journey into a unique vision that is Hardway’s own. While there are some cuts like “People Getting High,” “Time to Go” and “See Through Me” that may transfer to the dancefloor (if you can keep up with them), the album is delightfully cerebral. The man puts a lot of care, attention and detail into his craft, and this album shows it. This is a project to contemplate and revel in rather than a purely hedonist foray into the sweat-soaked libido. It’s a thing of beauty to be truly appreciated (especially the ironic toe-tapper “Worms and Weasels”). While so many artists who’ve been around awhile prefer to stagnate in their all-too-familiar signature sounds, James Hardway continually broadens his and his fans’ horizons with remarkable inventiveness and incredible music.

James Hardway http://www.jameshardway.com/ • Hydrogen Dukebox: http://www.hydrogendukebox.com/

Categories
Music Reviews

Liaisons Dangereuses

Liaisons Dangereuses

Liaisons Dangereuses

Hit Thing

I told my friend Julian that Hit Thing had just reissued the Liaisons Dangereuses album. I had no idea what it was, except for a little help from the press notes that connect the album to the bizarre Kraut-Dance music made by the already unfairly obscure DAF. The description starts off by referring to the album as, “probably the most highly anticipated electronic CD reissue of all times.” This is exciting and troublesome, considering I hardly have any context in which to place their music. Julian, of course, says, “Oh yeah, they’re great. When I was in these Parisian dance clubs in the early ’90s, all the Goth chicks would totally get into that stuff; it’s really weird. Have you ever heard the Conny Plank/Annie Lennox release?”

Apparently Plank produced the last Eurythmics album, and half of Can is on it. Pretty strange. Thanks to Plank, I can actually appreciate some things about this release. Conny Plank was every bit the genius that any great American or Experimental producer (or, whatever hipster we’re lauding this week) is. He has even been considered the Phil Spector of kraut-rock. Yet, he’s only like Phil Spector if those telephone books they were stomping on in the studios were made out of gelatin. Most of kraut-rock owes itself to Plank, as does some of Devo and Eno’s best work, and the Alexander Von Schillpenbach album that was reissued on John Corbett’s Unheard Music Series not too long ago. Plank also did a DAF album in 1980. A year later, Liaisons Dangereuses, was released.

Lauded by club music innovators like Derrick May, the music has a distinct sense of being something special. The hard beat, progressive and eclectic instrumentation, multi-lingual ranting make a nice sell for deeming the album a perfect combination of the progressing dance music culture of the time and kraut-rock experimentalism. Removing this album from its social context allows the listener to hear so many surprises, so much thought in the production, so much that seems so inexplicable.

The children’s voices and bizarre yelps and crashes that you , at first, write off as rational production choices, seem completely unpredictable by the time you reach the Brotzmann-esque noise saxophone blaring on “Etre Assis Ou Danses.” The next track is filled with metallic guitar scraping that again emphasizes Liaisons Dangereuses’ affinity for avant-garde noise music, subtlety engaged on the same level as their forward-looking beat-oriented electronics use. Hysterical laughing and exaggerated voices on “Le Macho y la nene”; a beat on “Dupont” gets gradually annihilated and arrhythmic, as almost Ives-like swells of other electronic music complicate and clutter the music. Each track is truly a different experiment. Even with the most progressive avant-garde music today, over the course of 40 minutes an artist tends to hammer in some redundant points. Liaisons Dangereuses is a completely lean release. By the closing track, the group senses that they might be forced to repeat themselves. To head it off, the album abruptly ends. After all of the 3 to 6 minute abundantly rich songs, the title track just cuts off, after only a minute and a half.

Julian tends to tell me romantic stories about music. Maybe gothic French girls were dancing to this stuff in the early ’90s. I just wonder where they are now. I wonder who has the courage to revel in the time they spend with this consistently unsettling album.

Hit Thing: http://212.12.33.205/Hit-Thing/

Categories
Music Reviews

Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock

Future 2 Future

Transparent

Herbie Hancock is one of those rare geniuses in modern-day music who is not only hard to pin down but who also refuses to rest on his laurels. The legendary jazz pianist seems to have a masochistic need to challenge himself and his fanbase by stretching the definitions of his genre and wholeheartedly keeping outside of it if it doesn’t fit his need for musical exploration.

As a mere prodigy, Sir Herbie, along with the likes of Horace Silver and Hank Mobley, was one of the first to bring the Ray Charles R&B influence to bop. While still a young man, he went along the mad magic Miles Davis ride, producing spaced-out funk jazz that only now (30-odd years later) people are finally starting to understand — with the helping ones-and-twos hands of DJs. With his Headhunters, he took funk, jazz, and disco to a whole new level. Then, in the ’80s, the master gave everyone Future Shock, paying homage to hip-hop (the nascent form still being dissed at the time). With incredible, iconoclastic vigor, he’s delved into everything — including world music — while not being afraid to crank out a Gershwin tune.

Knowing all that, it’s not surprising that Herbie Hancock has now released an electronic album. It really was just a matter of time. And Future 2 Future can hold its head high among other Herbie classics like Maiden Voyage, The Headhunters, and Future Shock. Enlisting the help of fellow mad professor, Bill Laswell, the two have concocted a formula it will take jazz heads decades to decipher.

The disc opens with a Frikyiwa Afro-electronic tune, “Kebero Part 1,” that gives a respectable nod Angelique Kidjo’s way. “Tony Williams” pays homage to Hancock’s late running partner by constructing a challenging yet enjoyable groove around one of the drummer’s old solos. Another one of his boys, Wayne Shorter, plays tenor and soprano saxophones on the aforementioned track and “Be Still” respectively. Chaka Khan electrifies a Bukem-esque atmospheric cut, “Wisdom.” A Guy Called Gerald, Charnett Moffett, Grandmixer DXT, Carl Craig, and Karsh Kale all help to illuminate this brilliant album. The supernova on this CD, though, has to be “This is Rob Swift,” where Drummer Supreme, Jack DeJohnette, lays down a phat-ass groove along with Laswell on bass while Hancock goes super-meaty on keys and Swift scratches like he’s got a head full of lice.

It is a shame that a lot of jazzheads probably won’t give Future 2 Future a listen. Hancock proves what DJs and dancers have been saying since ’93: jazz is perfectly suited for electronic dance music. Herbie’s keyboard playing is amazing, knowing exactly when to punch in the right notes to accentuate the beat, flourishing at the perfect moment, and knowing when to insert spaces when the moments calls. These explorations in musical space are examples that jazz musicians would be especially adept in teaching the electronica world when it comes to song construction. It’s also an interesting territory jazz can explore to reinvigorate itself — if only the community will let Hancock and this album lead the way.

Transparent Music: http://www.transparentmusic.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Carl Craig

Carl Craig

onsumothasheeat

Shadow

A surprising change of pace for this jetsetting superstar DJ, onsumothasheeat explores the indescribable, improvisational and complex methodologies of urban music. Sequestered in this broad category are the fundamental elements of jazz, hip-hop, and the eventual evolution into drum n’ bass and electro. Here, Carl Craig examines each facet thoroughly, handpicking from the prolific Shadow catalog, and translates each breezy nuance through his solid-steel decks.

As Ultralights’ breezy “Supernova” segues into the Kraftwerk-like fiddling of LB’s “Superbad,” it’s obvious the man has chosen wisely, like the tried and true music aficionado he is. Throughout the mix, Craig proves modern dance can blend positively into the time-honored be-bop swing of the past. Live breakbeats bounce like tennis balls off cement once the dark atmospheres of Goo’s “The OG” enter the room, inducing permanent shockwaves throughout the remainder of the record. This 13-song mix definitely indulges in ambiguity and experimentation, rather than the set one would expect from Carl Craig. Whatever sheeat he is on, let’s hope he never gets off.

Shadow Records, 26 West 17th Street, #502, New York, NY 10011, http://www.shadowrecords.com