Out of the seminal figures to emerge from Detroit techno’s second wave during the early nineties, Carl Craig has always seemed like the one who was most eager to bend the structures of the electronic genre and cross-pollinate it with other musical genres such as jazz and soul. Indeed, his 1999 album under his Innerzone Orchestra alias ‘Programmed’ still stands as a highpoint in jazz-techno fusion, with its preceding single ‘Bug In The Bassbin’ arguably providing critical inspiration to a lot of the jazzy drum and bass that would follow in its wake.
It’s exactly this sort of musically restless behaviour and desire to combine different forms that’s led Craig to this latest album ‘Versus’, which originally has its roots in a 2008 Paris concert where Craig performed alongside an orchestra led by conductor Francois-Xavier Roth, reinterpreting tracks drawn from throughout the techno producer’s backcatalogue. Rather than restricting the collaboration to a single live performance, nine years on, ‘Versus’ sees Craig offering up a studio-based reprise that sees him once again working with Roth and his orchestra as well as classical pianist Francesco Tristano to reinterpret a selection of tracks from his backcatalogue alongside two compositions by Tristano. From the very outset, it’s as maximal and ‘widescreen’-sounding a collection as you’re no doubt already expecting.
‘Darkness’ provides a spectacular curtain opener as dark horn calls give way to slowly building percussion, a repetitive piano motif locking into place as the track gathers momentum, before vast majestic brass fanfares begin to propel things into more sinister territory, massive electronic drum cashes jarring the listener out of their reverie as mournful violins bring the movement to a close. ‘Sandstorms’ meanwhile places the electronics closer to the forefront as massed horns trace out the rave-tinged stabbing riff of the original track against shuffling programmed rhythms and noodling melodic synths, Tristano’s subtle piano counterpoints adding a slight jazz-noir undertone, before a 4/4 kickdrum pulse locks in to accelerate things towards their streamlined conclusion against darting keys and a dark synth bassline.
Elsewhere, ‘Desire’ sees an opening section built around delicate piano arrangements and melancholic cellos resolving itself around a streamlined backbone of shuffling house rhythms and warm analogue bass sequences, before a gear shift into half-step breakbeats ushers in the mood dark-hued horn stabs, the sense of drama building like the setting sun as the bright piano interjections pierce through like shards of light. In this case, the spectacular production and mixing job is just the icing on the top of this delicious main course from Craig, Tristano and Roth.