PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

The Detroit Experiment: self-titled

Duncan White

The Detroit Experiment

The Detroit Experiment

Label: Ropeadope
US Release Date: 2003-02-18
UK Release Date: 2003-03-17
Amazon
iTunes

The Detroit Experiment is a great idea; there can be no doubt about that. The premise is this: producer Aaron Luis Levinson and Ropeadope Records invite Detroit's finest jazz, soul and hip-hop musicians to an extended jamming session in the White Room studio in downtown Detroit, which should in some way capture the 'essence' of the city's music.

Ropeadope's greater intention is to 'Experiment' in every major US city -� The Philadelphia Experiemnt has already been successfully conducted. There is plenty of mileage in this ambitious scheme (although a UK equivalent wouldn't last long: The Coventry Experiment?) and Detroit seems an obvious choice after its massive recent exposure in 8 Mile. With a backdrop of Motown and soul and innovation in electronic music and hip-hop, Detroit is as famous for putting music on your car stereo as it is for making the car itself. So it is with reluctance that I must be forced to admit that the experiment doesn't quite work; the litmus paper didn't go blue.

Here is the sweeping manifesto: "This is not a record for those who like neat little boxes. This is a record for those who wonder what would happen if Miles Davis jammed with Radiohead and A Tribe Called Quest."

This is a lie. This is a record for those who wonder what would happen if some distinguished session musicians noodled about together and then had it all mixed by a pair of semi-obscure producers (Levinson is one, Detroit native and techno innovator Carl Craig the other).

There are flashes of unity, where everything comes together. Marcus Belgrave's trumpet is predictably perfect on "Space Odyssey", which has great rumbling hip-hop backdrop in its opening segment. Then it just deteriorates into straightforward jazz. The re-working of "Think Twice" is probably the most coherent track on the album, by turns accessible and challenging -� full of urgency and insidious rhythm. The unabashed funk of "Church" is another highlight �- invaluable if they ever try to make Starsky and Hutch Do Detroit.

It all goes wrong with "Revelation". It sounds like lift music. Regina Carter's violin solo grates with the over-luxuriant production. The result is unlistenable �- I'd probably end up hitting the lift alarm in a bid for mercy. The flute-driven "Midnight at the Twenty Grand" suffers from similar ailments, albeit not as chronic. Both tracks made my life appreciably worse.

There is a heavy jazz bias, doubtless due to the credentials of the jazz musicians that have agreed to take part, and their respective solos tend to dominate, rather than complement, tracks. There is a curious aversion to vocals, and when they do finally arrive on "Too High" they are preposterous, both lyrically and in delivery. Detroit's electronic music scene is relegated to the backdrop and there is too little diversity on a project with these kinds of ambitions.

Only "The Way We Make Music" gives hip-hop full rein, and then there seems to be no fusion with any other aspect of the Detroit sound. However, MC Invincible's rapping is tight and well supported by the Athletic Mic League. The choice to release this as a single is misleading though; nothing sounds remotely like it on the rest of the album.

The crux of the problem with the The Detorit Experiemnt is such. What you have is a collection of people who can play their instruments extremely well, are revered for their technical expertise, but are not fundamentally creative. Sure they have worked with a lot of creative people (Prince, Miles Davis, The Roots and, well, Seal) but they have always been executing someone else's ideas.

Therefore, the bulk of the responsibility ends up falling on Levinson and Craig, and one of them isn't even from Detroit. They seem to hold their musicians at a reverential distance and rather than trying to blend a distinct 'sound', opt instead for a collage. I'm sure musos will nod their heads wisely and find plenty to 'appreciate' in this collection. Musical dexterity will be admired, but, really, this is passionless, directionless music. Irrevocably less than the sum of its parts.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.