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Motor City Drum Ensemble - Raw Cuts, Vol. 1

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Artist: Motor City Drum Ensemble

Album: Raw Cuts, Vol. 1

Label: Rush Hour

Review date: Jan. 6, 2011

Stuttgart producer Danilo Plessow has made quite a name for himself over the past few years with his Motor City Drum Ensemble (MCDE) tracks. Over the course of a number of 12” singles, mostly the Raw Cuts series, he’s managed almost effortlessly to hook into a continuum of Detroit or Detroit-centric producers who cauterize old cuts and buff them to an odd, sepia-toned “shine,” locking them into place with rhythms that are so eloquently physical, they’re undeniable pleasure-zones unto themselves. If this all sounds like something Theo Parrish or Rick Wilhite has been up to for years now, well, you wouldn’t be wrong. But there’s something in the MCDE aesthetic that keeps you compelled.

As you may have already gathered, MCDE’s modus operandi is unsurprisingly simple — gank some snippets from old disco, funk and soul records, set them looping, underpin them with loping rhythmic shuffles and steady four-to-the-floor, threading intricate percussion in the gaps, and then paste clusters of tone and two-finger melodies over the top. So far, so post-Moodymann.

What makes these tracks work is their odd balance of laissez-faire and tetchy energy. On “Raw Cuts #4,” everything eases along to the sweet melisma of a borrowed soul singer, before a masculine yelp adds nervousness and propulsion to the mix. From there, the track jumps down hallways like a ricocheting disco ball. “Raw Cuts #6” pits a steely hi-hat and glistening keyboard filigree against a diva vocal that spins breathlessly in mid-air, while glottal gasps and submerged snares percolate under the track’s belt.

The steady flow of Motor City Drum Ensemble tracks on Raw Cuts, Vol. 1 is interrupted midway by two contributions from Jayson Brothers. They play a similar game, but with a more elegant, stately stride — on “All My Life,” descending disco strings add panache to a fleet-footed stomp; omnipresent crowd noise sets the track down in an imagined ballroom of Detroit past. Nice stuff, but it’s the confusing tugs of emotion in the MCDE tracks that really fire the imagination, conducting reactions that’ll catch you listening — an odd melancholy flitting amongst the joyous heft of the rhythms; updated nostalgia with body-moving functionality. They fit perfectly the Rush Hour imprint’s guiding ethos — productions that maintain a certain historical reverence, but without descending into platitudinous pastiche.

By Jon Dale

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