PAUL RANDOLPH with JOHN KUMAHARA , ADAM KHAN , DARRYL CAMPBELL , CHRISTIAN NEWHOOK and more, at the El Mocambo (464 Spadina), December 31. $30 advance, more at the door. www.idigdancers.com. Rating: NNNNN
Detroit is credited as the birthplace of techno. Over the past several years, though, a peculiar type of new Detroit soul music has been making waves in the DJ scene. Carl Craig's Innerzone Orchestra mined cosmic jazz and soul to critical acclaim, Jeremy Ellis and John Arnold made broken beat's spastic funk more musical, and Amp Fiddler emerged from the ranks of session players and sidemen to release a confident Sly Stone-influenced album.
More recently, another in-demand sideman, Paul Randolph, has also graduated to become a buzzed-about frontman and songwriter. He had already turned in strong performances with Innerzone Orchestra and Amp Fiddler, along with some seriously smoking bass playing on Moodymann productions. A few months ago, Moodymann's label released Randolph's first EP (This Is... What It Is) under his own name, and a fall tour of Europe and Japan saw him heralded as the highlight of the multi-artist revue.
After spending so many years backing up other musicians, he's happy to be back in front of a band again. But he doesn't regret his backup role for a second.
"To be a good frontman, you need to be a good sideman," Randolph explains from his Detroit home. "You need to know how to be sensitive to everyone else and to hear how it all goes together. You need to be aware of everything but never let the audience know when things are going wrong.
"I remember being on tour with Amp, and sometimes we'd look at each other and he'd say, 'Now I know what you're saying,' because we used to have opposite roles when he played with me in Mudpuppy."
Mudpuppy was a New Orleans-influenced blues-funk band that Randolph used to front, which on the surface seems miles away from the DJ-oriented scene he's associated with now. However, that shouldn't suggest that he's jumping on any dance music bandwagon; Detroit is a small city, and the divisions between the scenes aren't nearly as defined as they might seem from the outside.
"I was into techno almost from its inception. I used to play in bands with Mike Banks from Underground Resistance when we were teenagers. I remember hanging out at his house playing with synths and making sounds. I saw it develop from the beginning.
"I guess I got reintroduced to dance music in the early 90s through Mike, after spending some time playing mainly in the live scene. He told me I should bring some of that aspect into what they were doing.
"My struggle in the beginning with techno was that it always seemed accidental -- guys plugging in a few boxes and tweaking until it sounded good. There wasn't that grounding in harmony, melody and structure, and I wanted to bring some of that into it."