Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Intersection: Carl Craig & Moritz Von Oswald

The Intersection is an occasional feature on JazzWrap that looks at artists that blend jazz with electronica (a tradition pioneered by none other than Miles Davis on such classic recordings as On The Corner).

This week's focus is Carl Craig & Moritz Von Oswald's Recomposed: Music by Maurice Ravel & Modest Mussorgsky

This column is usually about the collision of jazz and electronica, but this time it's about a remarkable album where classical and electronica meet head-on with stunning results.

Released by Universal in 2008, Recomposed: Music by Maurice Ravel & Modest Mussorgsky is the third volume of a series in which electronica producers "recompose" famous classical music originally recorded for the legendary label Deutsche Grammophon. In this case, the maestros are Carl Craig and Moritz Von Oswald, who brilliantly reinterpret 1987 recordings by conductor Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra of music by Ravel ("Bolero") and Mussorgsky ("Pictures at an Exhibition").

Armed with vintage drum machines and analogue synths, the Berlin- and Detroit-based DJs Von Oswald and Craig sampled, looped and recast the classic works to fit the minimalist techno aesthetic. Rather than sounding like a kitschy remix, this marvelously entrancing album stands as an utterly original work in its own right.

It begins with a spacey introduction that lulls the listener into a serene expectant mood. Patient ears are rewarded when the first movement begins. Craig and Von Oswald use the majestic, sensual 3/4 pulse of "Bolero" to build anticipation until the groove blends seamlessly into the second movement where it takes on more tension. By then, the horn samples begin to chatter fascinatingly like birds on a wire.

At the start of the third movement, a quickened electronic pulse forces the horn lines to become more simplistic and repetitious, overlapping in the fourth movement before morphing into pure electronica in the interlude that follows it. This is like Steve Reich's minimalist chamber music reimagined by Cylons.

Just as the work threatens to lose its point of reference entirely, the symphonic elements return in earnest during the fifth movement. The menacing mood is like something out of Bernard Herrmann's music for Cape Fear.

When the electronic rhythms return it is again at the service of the samples. The percolating beats propel swirling strings, sinuous woodwinds and ominous brass toward a protracted resolution in the sixth movement. Here, the repetitive thrum and rocking of low brass and strings suggests a ship on crash course with destiny. And we are happy to go there, following the siren song. Highly recommended.

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