Move D: Kunstoff
City Centre Offices

Conjoint: A Few Empty Chairs

Move D's Kunstoff (‘plastic') was first issued by David Moufang on his own Source Records imprint way back in 1995 and now gets resurrected by City Centre Offices in anticipation of a new album scheduled for 2007. One shouldn't be too surprised, then, by the material's old-school tech-house vibe or its mid-‘90s sound design. Great music endures, however, regardless of whether it was produced a day or decade ago and Moufang's languorous, subtly swinging tracks remain exquisite set-pieces. Wisely treating grooves as support rather than ends in themselves, he not only shifts the primary focus to compositional quality but, in doing so, dramatically extends the genre's scope. Consequently, we get 76 minutes of techno minimalism at its finest, whether we're talking dreamy atmospheres (“Soap Bubbles,” “77 Sunset Strip”), funky dubscapes (“In/Out,” “Nimm 2”), elegant percussion ruminations (“Trist”), or sleek club tracks (“Hood”). Choice cuts include the opener, “Eastman,” where a Jon Hassell-styled synth motif undulates over a crisp house groove, and “Sandman,” where hypnotic synth motifs sparkle over a locomotive groove and growling sub-bass. Moufang caps the set with an exotic ambient flourish (“Xing the Jordan/Seven”), showing how far beyond techno's conventional purview he's capable of venturing.

Moufang also appears on A Few Empty Chairs alongside fellow Conjoint members Karl Berger (vibes), Gunter Ruit Kraus (guitar), and Jamie Hodge (digital effects); having played with jazz icons like Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman, and Lee Konitz, Berger brings decades of experience to the project while the Chicago-born Hodge initially attracted attention with Born Under A Rhyming Planet, a 1994 release on Richie Hawtin's Plus8 imprint (Hodge, Moufang, and Kai Kroker also comprise Studio Pankow). Kraus is not only the guitarist but also responsible for most of the compositions (including "Ruit Silvermoon," "Ice Tango," "Ruit Valley") and developed the album's playing- and sound-concepts (Kraus started the Conjoint project with Moufang in 1995 and has played with Peter Brötzmann and Chaka Khan, among others).

The group's fluid sound defies easy categorization: it's predominantly cool jazz in style yet is equally electronic in its sound design—think of Conjoint as an electronic analogue to The Modern Jazz Quartet. The jazz dimension largely comes from Berger and Kraus with the vibraphonist's resonant runs gracefully interlaced with the guitarist's spidery latticework. In this context, Hodge's approach is admirably understated and very much in line with the group's restrained aesthetic. Some guests also appear: Ingrid Sertso's wordless musings and Christoph Reimann's woodsy clarinet tones mingle with Berger's chiming accents and Kraus's delicate lines on “Conjoint With Clarity” while a muted trumpet floats delicately over shimmering guitar chords in the atmospheric “Ice Tango.”

The simpatico rapport between the musicians is one of the recording's major strengths, something the album's remarkably clean sound (a live recording no less) accentuates. Their playing is typically explorative yet rarely so loose it sacrifices cohesiveness. At the same time, 70 minutes of atmospheric jazz is a bit too much of a good thing, and something in the vicinity of a 50-minute total might have been wiser, especially when the material sometimes lapses into meandering episodes that slow the disc's momentum. Luckily, A Few Empty Chairs includes enough strong material (like the opener “Blue & White”) to counter that weakness.

December 2006