Carl Craig's Sci-Fi Jazz

Techno, but not as we know it

Programmed isn't that radical, but it does include several sharp sonic veers for Craig; there's precious little delving into the butt-shaking rhythms that marked his past work. Instead we get a minimalist, largely acoustic cover of the Stylistics' "People Make the World Go 'Round" (seemingly included more to score philosophical points about Craig's interest in '70s soul than for the track's own merits); an eerily touching answering machine message from a confused late-night lover; and a humorously bizarre skewering of hip-hop's structural conservatism. That song, "The Beginning of the End," features rapper Lacksi-Daisy-Cal tossing out paranoid premillennium quips while crunching on a mouthful of potato chips, taking time out to verbally spar with a double-tracked recording of himself. "I wanted it to be an antidote to the hum-drum, the usual hip-hop shenanigans where you take a break and just rap on top of it," Craig explains. "There's so many things that people in hip-hop haven't touched on yet."

The meat of Programmed, though, is given over to extended vamps that recall the flow of Herbie Hancock's 1973 album Mwandishi, or the Human Arts Ensemble's sprawling "outside" workouts from the same era. It's hard to shake a leg when listening to it, but a pleasant brain twitch is unavoidable. At its best, as on "Basic Math," the music slowly builds from tinkling drumplay to an insistent, probing, deep bass line. Thick washes of electric piano begin to move in, with gurgles of synthesized noise peeking through. Once the song grows in momentum, with Francisco Mora's drumming keeping things satisfyingly in the pocket, Craig leads the group into deep space, and then back again.

It's techno, but not as we know it: Carl Craig's jazz-steeped Innerzone Orchestra
It's techno, but not as we know it: Carl Craig's jazz-steeped Innerzone Orchestra

And space certainly seems to be the destination of choice on Programmed, as Craig joins the ranks of black sci-fi futurists dreaming of life far beyond the urban terrain with its suffocating discourse on the possible. "Yeah, this album is different from what I usually do," Craig says. "It puts you in a disjointed frame of mind; everything's off a little bit. But why not ring out the Twentieth Century on a crazy note instead of the same old rudimentary stuff?"

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