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Hard Rain Jamie Chambers , June 10th, 2019 08:43

Tenderlonious' techno tribute misses the mark, finds Jamie Chambers

You can’t go back. So James Clifford tells us, suspicious of those presenting the possibility of cultural return. And so Twin Peaks tells us, as Coop becomes increasing lost in an ever-expanding multiverse, his retrograde point of arrival endlessly deferred.

Yet, blithely repudiating these supposedly incontestable laws of space and time, a younger generation of musicians has of late been finding uncanny new resonance and a rude new health for classicist jazz, funk and R&B through revisitation. On paper, the smoooove grooves of Kamaal Williams’ aptly named The Return shouldn’t play as anything more than pastiche. And yet, not dissimilar to Kamasi Washington’s The Epic, Williams finds a new blush of vitality in old grooves, achieving the seemingly impossible in making the old sound new.

Sadly, despite an evident abundance of talent, whatever magical ingredients Williams and Washington are adding to their nostalgic alchemy are not present – for this listener at least – in Tenderlonious’s new electronic album, Hard Rain. Tenderlonious (London’s Ed Cawthorne) has an impressive CV: he’s a deft, dexterous flautist and bandleader (whose band at times includes Williams’ old bandmate Yussef Dayes), the founder and label head of hip London label 22a, and – on the basis of Hard Rain – a competent producer of jazz-infused electronica.

Hard Rain plays ostensibly as a homage to Detroit techno, to Omar S, Theo Parrish, and – more distantly – Carl Craig. There are many incidental pleasures to savour. In particular, the album nails the warp and woof of Detroit techno’s jazzier stylings, that pleasing divergence between the more metronomic pulses of house and the human imperfections of performance and improvisation. Tenderlonious also has an immaculate ear for texture, and the balance between gleam and grit. Opener ‘Casey Jr’ has a satisfying fizzle and hiss amidst its many, skewed and compressed layers of trebly percussion and surface noise. Elsewhere, ‘Another State of Consciousness’ recalls Bitchin Bajas’ psychedlic skronk, even if the track never really seems to drop.

The album doesn’t help itself, however, through a general feeling of being half-cooked, with only three of its ten tracks playing significantly over the two-minute mark. Whilst the defence here may be to gesture towards the micro-grooves of Donuts and similar, there would seem something of a tightrope between the Dilla / MadLib art of the definitive sketch and tracks that simply feel insubstantial.

Overall, Hard Rain suffers by comparison not only with fellow UK revivalists like Kamaal Williams, but also with other artists picking up the baton on Detroit techno, such as Kyle Hall. Hall’s recent From Joy – an album with much in common with Hard Rain in its woozy percolation of jazz and house, and free play of the messy and the metronomic – has an effortless, languorous sense of fullness and invention that is lacking in Hard Rain.

To be fair, Hard Rain is not a bad album. It will very amiably sit, out of focus, in your field of vision as you do other things. It doesn’t, however, have whatever special something it needs to transcend the sense of a backwards referent. Despite Tenderlonious obvious talent and competence, there is little here that makes Hard Rain of-itself; no essential flame giving the album an anchor in the present, rather than a signpost backwards to more interesting, individuated music. Here’s hoping Tenderlonious’ next outing gives us less costume, and more of himself.