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2004-05-17 - 7:49 a.m.

The composer of that extraordinary O Jays song the Backstabbers was shot dead in Philadelphia a few days ago. John Whitehead co-wrote with Gene McFadden – who wasn’t shot. Their greatest was Aint No Stopping Us Now. I listened to Give Me A Reason about four times.

After the River Thame which is in the valley between the first Jurassic dip slope and the next higher stratum, just near the Oxford Services – there is a climb and then a scarp – and then another little river in the equivalent position on the second, older Jurassic dip slope. Its just before the A34 joins. I wonder what its called? Maybe its a tributary of the Cherwell?

Cropredy is on the Cherwell where it makes its way through the oldest Jurassic layers in the Cotswolds quite near Edge Hill. Rob and I have settled on the last Monday in May for a trek and I think we might take in that bit of the Oxford Canal – to see in detail how it hangs off the contours.

I bought stacking for another 4O CDs and virtually immediately added to the storage problem by buying Carl Craig’s Detroit Experiment. Also the history of the Blue Note label by Richard Cook who I think I vaguely knew a very long time ago. He is now regarded as one of the jazz police, I believe. The Detroit record has a picture of the COBO Centre on the front which is where the big automotive takes place which is my major excuse for getting to the motorcity. I didn’t realize that CC plays synth and guitar. There is a nice polytonal drift to this stuff on first hearing but the beats are exactly where you’d want them too. I was talking to Rob about the way CC remixes the B52s. Almost feels like home.

And a cracking duet between Regina Carter on viola and Geri Allen. The bio says: At first, she listened to classical music. Then, as she got older she discovered R&B. "There was just a lot of different music going on there [in Detroit]," she observes, "because we had Motown happening and Parliament and Funkadelic, and the Symphony, so there was some of everything. When I went to school I took a class in East Indian music and the history of India, and then African music." Sounds like her Motorcity Moments is a Must.

I met Sue this morning who I haven’t seen for about a year and we ended up discussing the electrical engineering cluster in Surrey. Her husband is part of it. Electrical engineers are very hard to find these days.

I have been listening to a lot of Su Lyn and am wondering whether she may not be quite close to Laurie Anderson in style and approach. If you mix avant garde jazz sounds and electronic loops and the like then its not a very big step.

I also listened to some old Escom sequences – an arrangement of one of the pieces in Mikrokosmos – and the piece which was a fantasy about some avant garde jazzers meeting up with some Minimalists in 1976. Its obvious looking for a few more random elements. Random seems to be a word that hovers between criticism and approval these days – actually a very interesting and unstable status.

The Dhorn tracks on the Highveld site get more plays than I might have expected. They are not all there as “finished” works so much as examples – not least the first one which is Mark, Robin, Gilbert and myself playing around. I suppose people are just curious. It maybe it is because they are a bit random?

I feel quite old – as Ricardo’s salutation to his friend would suggest. I find it surprising that I still want to do this stuff. That some sort of common sense hasn’t broken out. I wonder why the urge is stronger when I have just woken up?

I anticipate a particular kind of difficulty over the rest of the year.

DOWNBEAT SAYThere's

a broken beauty about Detroit. Its downtown was a huge symbol of American technology, but it now looks like an industrial graveyard. "We have this beautiful 19th century building that was a train station abandoned by Amtrak in the 1980s," says Detroit electronica hero Carl Craig. "We have the Book-Cadillac Hotel that was the equivalent of New York's Waldorf Astoria, and it's been abandoned ever since I can remember."

Apparently though, Detroit's bleak landscape, juxtaposed by its eclectic music scene, is what attracted Ropeadope Records to follow-up its Philadelphia Experiment there. "Detroit mirrors Philly in a lot of ways," says Ropeadope owner Andrew Hurwitz. "They're both blue-collar towns and have rich musical histories with a lot of great players who are underrated. Part of the concept is to pay tribute to people who never get the credit that they deserve. It was the next logical extension."

Three years ago, when Hurwitz and producer Ace Levinson did the Philadelphia Experiment, they basically just wanted to do a record in their hometown. Hurwitz dreamt of a project with pianist Uri Caine, bassist Christian Mcbride and hip-hop drummer Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, and the trio collaborated with minimal guidance. After the success of the Philadelphia Experiment, Hurwitz and Levinson set out to do a follow-up. Levinson wanted to do one in Miami, but when producer Craig Street approached Hurwitz with the idea of doing it in Detroit, the "light-bulb" flashed.

At first, they wanted to replicate the small-scale project they did in Philly, but it blossomed into something much bigger. "We didn't intend for it to be this huge group," Hurwitz says. "It just grew without us really noticing it. Carl Craig was the first one we got, based on the fact that he's `Mr. Detroit.' Marcus Belgrave was the next guy that we got. And once we got them, we found out that everyone had played with those guys. We realized early on that this was not going to be the Philly experiment.

"People were really receptive," Hurwitz continues. "When we got there in January 2001, these guys couldn't believe that we came to Detroit--downtown, nevertheless--to make this record in the White Room. Marcus opened the phone book and said, `You got to call this person and that person.' People just started coming in."

"They've tried to cover most of the bases," trumpeter Belgrave says. "I don't know if they can encompass all of Detroit in one record, but to have that kind of cross-section of genres is a great thing."

Craig and Belgrave are the two anchors that ground the Detroit Experiment. Both are musical giants in their own right. Belgrave is one of the city's most noted jazz musicians, having mentored the likes of pianist Geri Allen and violinist Regina Carter (both of whom are on the CD). In the 1970s, he launched the influential label Tribe Records, which documented Detroit's avant-garde scene. Craig is one of the most revered producers on the techno/electronica scene today. Like Belgrave, he's an experimentalist, deeply rooted in his idiom's tradition; also like the trumpeter, he spearheaded his own influential label, Planet E Communications.

"My role from the beginning was to set the mood of the project," Craig says. "I really wanted to see Belgrave's `Space Odyssey' get done more than anything. All I wanted was for it to be an updated version of it, so I added a lot of synthesizer on it and reorganized the mix."

Belgrave and Craig corralled some of Detroit's most impressive and versatile musicians, such as saxophonist Bennie Maupin, bassist Jaribu Shahid, drummer Karriem Riggins and keyboardist Amp Fiddler. The CD morphs from deep house to blistering modal jazz funk to psychedelic soul, hip-hop and even gospel. Much of the Experiment's musical breadth can be credited to the encyclopedic music knowledge of Levinson, who came up with most of the song choices. "I went through my record collection and pulled out a lot of records that I had been exposed to growing up," Levinson says. "An enormous amount of music that I ended up bringing was stuff that I picked up during my childhood."

There's a melancholy edge to the Detroit Experiment, due in part to the combining esthetics of the passionate live sessions and Craig's stark post-production. The techno embellishments are subtle yet effective, especially when evoking Detroit's barren cityscape. "Because we would see all the negatives with the visuals of Detroit, we try to make something positive out of it," Craig says. "We're trying to beautify this city with music."

COPYRIGHT 2003 Maher Publications, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group

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