The Detroit Experiment

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Album: The Detroit Experiment
Label: Ropeadope
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Album: Freak In
Label: Bluebird
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Album: The Detroit Experiment
Label: Ropeadope

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Album: Freak In
Label: Bluebird

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A debonair tastemaker with equal fondness for science-fiction prophecy and earthbound affirmation, Carl Craig has been pushing at the edges of jazz since he first made his name on the Detroit techno scene. From protégés on his Planet E label (Recloose, Moodymann) to work under his various guises (he's released albums under his own name, as Paperclip People, and with Innerzone Orchestra), Craig has helped twist jazzy connotations around a central definition that retains its matter even as its form swings out of line. But while he's generally scared away the fusion ghosts that threaten to overshadow even his best techno-jazz high points, those ghosts haunt his Detroit Experiment project to dispiriting effect. Following behind a Philadelphia Experiment group helmed by Roots maestro ?uestlove, The Detroit Experiment pairs Craig with a team of hometown jazzbos, from longtime Herbie Hancock saxophonist Bennie Maupin to Sun Ra percussionist Francisco Mora. The 14 members' pedigrees look great on paper, but most of The Detroit Experiment draws a plain, flat line back to a '70s fusion era that only occasionally sounded good the first time around. "Space Odyssey" cooks up a solid mid-tempo groove around the darting glide of Marcus Belgrave's trumpet, and "Think Twice" outruns most of what passes for jazzy deep-house with a warm wash of keyboard vamp and hi-hat snap. But highlights that barely rate provide little consolation on an album that takes no chances with its premise. Generic enough that its jazz and electronic flavors sound equally watered-down, The Detroit Experiment serves as a near-total opposite to Freak In by Dave Douglas, a rangy New York trumpeter beloved both by uptown jazz purists and by downtown experimentalists. Laying digressive jazz moods over a delicate electronic undercarriage, Douglas and his band–including guitarist Marc Ribot, drummer Joey Baron, and effects whiz Ikue Mori–summon Miles Davis' '60s quintet just prior to In A Silent Way, when jazz and rock were still petting their way toward the luggish bear hug of fusion. At its best, Freak In follows a fusionary aim that sounds more divined than designed, streaming through tempo shifts and solo runs that practically grin when they lock into place. The title track opens fast and shifty, with horns swallowing a jaunty jungle beat into a mouthful of jazz allusions. From there, the album wanders purposefully through heated electric bop, mellow acoustic meditation, and fusion focused with clarity that few bands of any era manage. The electronic grid underlying Freak In sounds like a natural byproduct of music set free from age constraints, pitching jazz less as a style than a process whose timeline hasn't faded even as its reach has dwindled.

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