Dance music can be an eclectic arena. Rarely is this eclecticism so neatly demonstrated than in the career of Curtis Jones. Most musicians are usually content with one alter-ego, if any, but Jones actually has two: Cajmere and Green Velvet. It’s not uncommon for artists to release side-projects under different names or with different bands, but few go to the lengths of actually concocting different personalities to fit their different moods. There’s Damon Albarn, of course, who projects himself in four different moods as the mastermind of the cartoon Gorillaz, but of course everyone knows it’s all a gag (that’s part of the fun, we’re not supposed to acknowledge the man behind the curtain). No, closer to the matter at hand I propose that the unfamiliar reader remember the example of Mr. Kool Keith, who actually seems to believe that he becomes different people with each different release. Not surprisingly, rumors of mental instability have dogged Keith’s steadily dwindling career.
I don’t believe that Curtis Jones is mentally ill, but I do think he’s having a lot of fun. Cajmere and Green Velvet aren’t necessarily diametric opposites, more like flip sides of the same coin. Jones himself got his start in the Chicago house scene of the early ‘90s, and regardless of his alter ego he has always remained firmly rooted in the house aesthetic. Cajmere is the traditionalist, infusing his music with a healthy dose of classic soul and gospel flavor, keeping close to the roots of Chicago’s deep house tradition and the similarly-minded New York garage scene. Green Velvet, on the other hand, represents the shock of the new: instead of New York, Green Velvet takes his cues from Detroit, the hard techno of the late ‘80s and the electro that inspired it, as well as subsequent European innovations. Between the two sides of his personality, Jones somehow manages to keep a firm grip on all corners of the house universe.
It’s a strange thing, to see a man at war with himself, but that is exactly what this CD purports to offer: Cajmere vs. Green Velvet. In practice, the experiment works extremely well, highlighting not only the differences between Jones’ two approaches, but the inevitable similarities as well. Jones’ own tracks appear throughout the set, with Green Velvet tracks appearing on the Cajmere disc, and vice versa. If anything, the artificial division serves to highlight just how catholic the house world has become in the past few years. Whereas within my immediate memory these kinds of eclectic exercises were few and far between—and notable for their rarity—these types of distinctions have become increasingly less potent. Cajmere’s disc carries a far more soulful bent, but the beats in places—particularly tracks like the Keyz remix of Old Man Groan’s “Jovonn” and the Switch Remix of Playgroup’s “Front 2 Back”—seem like they could easily have fit onto Green Velvet’s disc, featuring a classic speed garage feel that seems to have been sped up slightly to fit a more anxious electro template. Even Cajmere’s signature track, “Brighter Days”, which appears here in its Underground Goodie mix, appears in a slightly more robust and mutated form than might be expected.
At the end of the day, then, the prevailing difference in house becomes less one of genre than of mood. If the Cajmere mix was sonically adventurous, it was still significantly subdued when placed side by side with Green Velvet’s disc. Indeed, the best analogy would be to say that Cajmere represents the midnight hour, smoky and smooth, while Green Velvet represents the three AM second wind, a mad rush of audio adrenaline typified by harsher beats and jacking acid. There’s something sinister in the mix here, and it picks up steam from the very first track, DJ Pierre and Green Velvet’s “AcidTraxx 2”, which builds and sways like a peak time anthem before falling into Green Velvet’s classic paean to nitrous oxide, “Flash” (“Cameras ready / Prepare to flash”). I appreciate the fact that Jones isn’t afraid to throw a classic into the mix regardless of how hoary it may seem: Armand Van Helden’s remix of the Sneaker Pimps’ “Spin Spin Sugar” may be one of the most frequently-played tracks in the history of dance music, but it still kicks the shit out of me even after all these years. It’s fitting and appropriate, the perfect choice despite its ubiquity.
In the end, Curtis Jones’ two sides represent less a hard-and-fast division than the unified continuum of a single mood in flux. Cajmere is the ego, smooth and rational, simmering with funk, but held back by taste and charm; Green Velvet is the unrestrained id. I suspect that most people will prefer either one or the other, depending on their personality. Myself, I slightly favor Green Velvet, and this decision is clinched by his desire to end the second disc with the double-shot of his own epochal “La La Land” and the old school acid raver “Electricity”. But based on the embarrassment of riches on display here, it’d be a difficult choice for anyone to have to make.