Most of Detroit techno's recognized royalty are more accomplished as DJs than they are as producers. Carl Craig, on the other hand, came to techno as both a musician and producer, working on early Derrick May tracks and founding his own labels and nom-de-sequencers (Paperclip People, Tres Demented, 69) before he started as a DJ.
This Sessions anthology doesn't make any big statement about techno DJing; it favors simple builds and contrasts like coming out of the vocal camp of Chez Damier's "Help Myself" into the churning, elastic techno of Paperclip People's "Throw." So it doesn't feature the layered experimentalism of, say, Richie Hawtin, or the spontaneity of a Derrick May or Stacey Pullen set, or the manic intensity of Jeff Mills, for that matter. What it does have, however, are two discs worth of classics, remixes and reworkings that reveal that Craig not only covers the full techno spectrum in his varied work but actually makes the case that he did much to define its chilly soulfulness in the first place.
Disc One is highlighted by Craig's Grammy-nominated remix of Junior Boys' "Like a Child," on which he gives the innocuous vocal dance track an aural five o'clock shadow with some frayed synth bassline. If anything, his remixes and reworkings show that Craig's like the Neptunes of techno, able to make deceptively simple and sinister melodies out of a minimalist palate of binary funk and dusted sounds. His mix of Theo Parrish's "Falling Up" is a sonic freak-out of dueling sequences that resolves with — and here is precisely where the mix is effective — Cesaria Evora's Afro-funk "Angola," which then opens up into Francesco Tristano's "The Melody," a more Latin cousin of the May-Craig classic, "Strings of Life 89."
Disc Two spotlights more variations on a thump, starting with the more percussive techno of Craig's 69 guise (on "Rushed," "Psychobeat," etc.), which then leads into another vocal change-up with Xpress 2's "Kill 100," only to windup in the sunny, swirling melodic climes of "Futurelovetheme." Innerzone Orchestra's "Bug in the Bassbin" (yet another Craig alter-ego) concludes the mix, but it feels, thanks to its jazzy, snare-tastic manner, more like an encore. Nevertheless, after almost two hours of 4:4 beats finessed into so many different sounds on such a limited playing field, Craig and the listener both deserve that encore.
Hobey Echlin writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].