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Phil Ranelin: Remixes

I usually approach remix projects of complete albums with suspicion. Too often, complete sonic overhauls amount to nothing more than sloppy seconds and easy cash-ins on superior originals that don’t need to be recast. But in the case of Phil Ranelin’s Remixes and Organic Grooves’ Black Cherry, they can shed light-even if it’s the most unflattering fluorescent-on obscure recordings that for various reasons never received proper worldwide shine.

For the most part, electronica gurus Kirk DeGiorgio, Slicker, Micha Acher and others concoct some mildly interesting grooves out of Phil Ranelin’s mid-’70s albums The Time Is Now! and Vibes From the Tribe (which Hefty reissued last year). Jan Jelinek’s spare electro-washes and blipping rhythmic effects on “Sounds From the Village” and Beneath Autumn Sky’s trip-hop treatment of “Black Destiny” succeed in connecting the dots between Ranelin’s years as a leader in Detroit’s avant-garde jazz scene and the Motor City’s current electronica world. Unfortunately, if you don’t know anything about Phil Ranelin, you’re not going to learn much from these drastic electronica interpretations. Most tracks offer little hints of Ranelin being a trombonist and persuasive composer. Morgan Geist gussies up Ranelin’s trombone so much on his remix of “Sounds From the Village (Rollerskate Mix)” that it comes across dated and corny, while Slicker boils down the vocal track of “For the Children” to gizmo-ridden demo. If these Remixes are a doorway to unsung world of Phil Ranelin, they’re shamefully small ones.

Organic Grooves runs into similar problems with Black Cherry, but end with slightly better results than Remixes. Blasting off from William Parker and Hamid Drake’s critically acclaimed Piercing the Veil (Aum Fidelity, 2001), this set aptly illustrates the boogie that’s almost always present in Parker’s thick, voluptuous bass lines and Drake’s deep-pocket grooves. And with the subtle tweaking and dublike effects, Black Cherry can at times get the party started, especially on the thundering opener, “Gold Weave” and the Afro-beat stomp of “Tundra Roll.” But too often Black Cherry has boring spots where the electro grooves become stagnant ruts.

How about a remix of the remixes?

Originally Published