The Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble, Mr. Machine

Lee Smith

By Lee Smith

on 10.25.11 in Reviews

On paper, the music of Berlin-based avant-techno band Brandt Brauer Frick sounds like a tricky proposition. Combining Steve Reich-inspired acoustic minimalism, freeform jazz and propulsive contemporary techno is the kind of challenge that could flounder in the wrong hands, but the group’s 2010 debut, You Make Me Feel, proved both surprisingly accessible and deservedly successful, paving the way for this ambitious follow-up of ensemble reworks. Employing a 10-piece orchestra, Mr. Machine finds the band re-scoring four of the pieces from their first album for the expanded group, and constructing four new works, a task which apparently involved writing some 80 pages of sheet music per track.

High-end experiments and visceral dynamics

It’s hardly the kind of behavior you’d expect from afterparty-hopping Berlin techno producers, but the results will sound instantly familiar to anyone who’s spent longer than necessary on an underground techno dancefloor. Established hits like “Mi Corazon” stay largely loyal to their percussive forebears, and the rollicking thumps of “606 ‘n’ Rock ‘n’ Roll” are as irrepressibly danceable as anything the band has done to date. And if the project’s aim was to move beyond the dogmatic tendencies of conventional club music, they’ve achieved that, too, particularly in the speakeasy drawl of “You Make Me Real,” the frantically-stabbing drama of “Bop,” and the melancholic gypsy thrills of “Pretend.” Like fellow techno-inspired trio Cobblestone Jazz, the Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble have the good sense to raise their game without losing sight of what they do best: balancing high-end experiments and visceral dynamics with the aplomb that can only come from years spent honing their musicianship — and conceivably, even more years dancing in nightclubs.