Various Artists, Sessions

Todd Burns

By Todd Burns

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

To put it plainly: Carl Craig may just be one of the most respected (and relevant) electronic music grandfathers working right now. Craig was part of Detroit techno's second wave, learning the genre's ins-and-outs from legendary producer Derrick May. But unlike those that have fallen by the wayside of the future-centric techno scene, Craig has kept his ear to the pulse of electronic music via his label Planet E and his excellent remixes for artists as varied as English chanteuse Siobhan Donaghy and Luxembourg's (only?) piano prodigy Francesco Tristano. Sessions is essentially a celebratory look back at his career thus far, with a particular focus on his remixing talents, which garnered him a long overdue Grammy nomination in 2008 for his take on the Junior Boys '"Like a Child."

A dance music legend looks back.

With a reputation as large as Craig's, it's sometimes hard to find a way in. (Especially in the relatively faceless world of electronic music.) The answer lies in the details. Listen to Craig's mix of "Like a Child" for five minutes and you may not realize that he still hasn't dropped a beat (or a bassline for that matter). When he does, the effect is magical. Similarly, his remix of Rhythm & Sound's "Poor People Must Work" builds from murky beginnings into a mammoth techno stomp. ("There is no place to sleep/ there is nothing to eat" may be one of the unlikeliest sing-alongs you're likely to hear on a dancefloor.) Craig is a master tease, taking his skills as a DJ and building miniature epics of tension and release where the addition of a simple kick drum can elicit a scream.

Included on Sessions, amid the brilliant reworks, are a number of Craig's original productions under his own name — and a pseudonym or two. They shouldn't be ignored. Innerzone Orchestra, a jazz group led by Craig that featured (among others) Sun Ra drummer Francisco Mora, is represented by a tune that is often credited with inventing drum 'n 'bass, "Bug in the Bassbin." And you can even hear Craig's own voice on the track "Demented (Or Just Crazy)," although I wouldn't recommend judging him by the snarling and grunting. That's just the way his dark alter ego, Tres Demented, seems to like it.

If "Oscillator" by Paperclip People (another alias) was the sound of Craig perfecting Detroit techno, "Rushed" and the previously unreleased "Psychobeat" by 69 (a name used [mostly] in the mid-'90s) are snapshots of an artist at work, trying to break out of the early Detroit techno sound into something else entirely. That something else found its flowering in Craig's More Songs About Food and Revolutionary Art, which is heard here in the form of a live version of "At Les" recorded in 2007. It's techno, but it also encompasses so much more. The same could be said for Craig's career.