Album Reviews

Jeff Mills – Blue Potential

(Uncivilized World) UK release date: 24 July 2006

Techno and classical music don’t make the most obvious of bedfellows. Composers such as Philip Glass and Steve Reich have seen their music undergo overhaul for the dancefloor with rather qualified success, and in the other direction attempts have been even less conspicuous, save for Paul Van Dyk‘s live project that introduced a full symphony orchestra to his dance music.

With the work of Jeff Mills you might think such a project would be misguided, and yet this adventurous project goes some way to uniting the two.

Contributing to this surprising success are the orchestrations of Thomas Roussel, who manages not to soften the edges too much, and contributes an ‘overture’ of his own for the Montpellier National Orchestra to begin with. Initial impressions are wary, with the brass a little too rounded on the treble lines in Imagine, yet once orchestra and conductor are settled the music flows and punches freely.

The orchestra themselves adapt to the music with commendable enthusiasm, performing outside at the Pont Du Gard in Provence. It would be interesting to know how many of them were subsequently converted to Mills’ style, for on the accompanying DVD heads bob, violin bows attack readily and the percussion section secure a tight rhythm, no mean feat considering a couple of challenging timpani lines. With all this in place the music is illuminated with minimalist lines that comfortably sit alongside Glass’s current output; classy and refined but packing more aggression.

Mills himself is modestly positioned to the side of the stage, interjecting now and then but more than content to let his music do the talking. There are several thrilling moments – the low bass on Eclipse that doubles the DJ’s kick drum, Amazon’s relentless build up of tension and a big symphonic picture for orchestra alone in 4 Art. Entrance to Metropolis gets a near-Impressionist glow, while the transparent orchestration of Daylight reveals Roussel’s obvious affection for his material. This translates readily to the crowd in The Bells, most of the front rows ready to lose it.

The stop-start nature of the tracks is a mixed blessing, for in a way it would have been better to have heard the whole concert in a continuously mixed sequence, and on several occasions the orchestration can be hindering to the music, giving rounded edges instead of the sharp thrusts that are so characteristic of Mills.

This shouldn’t be blamed on Roussel, though, for he has done an excellent job in bringing through the classical qualities of the music, without ever making it leave the dancefloor. The generously filled DVD contains an interview with Mills and illuminates the work going on behind the scenes. A qualified success – maybe the Detroit Symphony Orchestra should take note!

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