Once upon a time, getting to know Christian Prommer was like finding the thread linking techno and house — both derivatives of disco — to jazz. The latter is a precursor to rhythm and blues, which itself forms the roots of soul music, an influence of disco. Prommer’s critically-acclaimed Drumlesson Vol. 1, which came out in 2008, delighted with its filtering of seminal techno and house tunes through deftly-crafted jazz arrangements. With the employment of real musicians, and the production genius of !K7 founder Peter Kruder, the result oozed polish while sounding as prodigiously improvisational as a terrific slice of live jazz. Prommer’s reworkings of such dance classics as Derrick May’s “Strings of Life” and Daft Punk’s “Around the World” managed to rub listeners the right way with their widespread familiarity while also challenging their preconceptions of the original tracks. But as cerebral as it may have been, Drumlesson Vol. 1 was still firmly in the realm of dance music, its percussive elements as palpable as fireworks.
Prommer’s long-awaited second instalment revisits his debt to Detroit but also betrays what Prommer has implied in interviews as an accidental foray into German electronic music. Where he once fused straight jazz with techno, we now hear shards of krautrock, prog and even psychedelia piercing the producer’s techno scaffolding. Prommer also adopts a mini-moog, vintage organ, and a range of electronic sounds not found on his earlier effort, while taking up the drums, piano, and percussion.
Once again, Prommer’s treatments astound as deconstructions of their original source material; familiar melodies are couched in entirely new moods and act as defining elements within a complex strata of sounds and effects. These qualities are most acute in Prommer’s reworkings of trance and deep house of the ’90s; the high octane mien of those club tracks kiboshed for the nuance and poetry of modern classical compositions. Album opener “Sandstorms”, for instance, is a bold emasculation of DJ Daruda’s propulsive 12-inch single of the same name. Daruda’s signature melody, bereft of its rapid-fire zing, lumbers along as part of a nine minute organ meditation that’s both darkly ominous and as wild as the jungle thanks to its polyrhythmic percussive section. To understate things, the similarity of Prommer’s derivation with the original track is not immediately apparent.
In fact, the album’s highlights are to be found in Prommer’s most thorough “remixes” where liberties are taken to their extremes and all stops are pulled on that which is often missing from electronic music: dynamics. Laurent Garnier’s deep trance anthem “Acid Eiffel” is reduced to a hushed piano-led cinematic introduction that segues into a tribal dance of sorts taking place somewhere subterranean. As the track glacially builds, the listener is kept hanging off an aural cliff wondering when Prommer will drop his climax. This turns out to be a psychedelic orgy of organ and guitar riffing. Quite unexpectedly, though, the moment is far from cathartic. Instead it’s a denouement that gently resolves itself with the track’s insistent piano-led undercurrent, and therefore comes off sounding curiously logical.
Prommer’s rendition of DJ Rolando’s “Night of the Jaguar” is interesting for it distills the original track’s Latin leanings to form a Latin house stomping session driven by plucked strings and featuring a curlicue that appears to nod at Ennio Morricone. Like “Acid Eiffel”, an obvious acme doesn’t figure here. This may disappoint those for whom the idea of a six-minute-long track sustained by cyclical repetition rings unpalatable. But the ineffable genius of Prommer is that “Jaguar Pt 2” never grates us to exhaustion; instead, the energy that would have gone into a climax is productively expended on a clockwork of tantalising instrumentals. When performed live, “Jaguar Pt 2” could easily assume all the dash and spice of a great live experience.
The final high notes of Drumlesson Zwei are undoubtedly Prommer’s take on Jean-Michel Jarre’s seminal “Oxygene (Pt. IV)” and Dennis Ferrer’s club hit “Sandcastles”. For the former, the producer essentially retains the original track’s architecture but throws up a riposte at Jarre’s move away from minimalist electronic compositions of the early seventies into orchestrated melodrama by giving us a product that’s stripped down and introspective. Although bare, the piano-led track, with a sprinkling of glockenspiel, nevertheless manages to affect a manner that’s claustrophobic and neo-noir eerie. And all this in just under three minutes! Ferrer’s deep house production is similarly dispossessed of its pumping bassline and electronic complexion in favour of a piano-driven voyage, 11 minutes long, that’s determinedly in kind with avant-garde classical music. While Prommer’s “remix” of “Sandcastles” may not attract universal appeal, there’s no denying the producer’s facility for arrangement.
As it promises to be, Drumlesson Zwei is as much for the head as it is for the hips. Like a recession that forces one to slow down and value the little things in life, Prommer has channeled the instinctive urgency of Detroit techno into fruitful explorations of dynamics and structure. As well as confirming Prommer’s formidable knowledge of dance music and his uncanny distinction in musical arrangement, the album has the producer once again finding the thread between distinct music genres.