JOHN ARNOLD and JEREMY ELLIS with ABACUS and LUPO at Andy Poolhall (489 College), Saturday (July 30). 416-923-5300. Rating: NNNNN
John Arnold and Jeremy Ellis have a lot in common, so it's not surprising that they're touring together. More unusual is the fact that the two solo artists are playing together in one set, mixing between their songs and creating new ones on the fly in a seamless flow of music much like a DJ set.
"What we're doing is basically like two DJs playing back to back," explains Arnold from his Detroit home. "We build the songs up from scratch, playing the beats on the MPC (sampler) and improvising on top of it."
Both of the Detroit-based artists were serious musicians before they caught the techno bug. They're also both signed to Ubiquity Records and specialize in a rhythmically complex electronic jazz funk similar to the sound that developed simultaneously overseas in the West London broken beat and nu-jazz scene. They've worked together in the past on various projects but are taking it to another level with this live pairing.
"It was a really natural process. We used to be roommates, and we both started producing at the same time. I think Jeremy even used my gear on his first productions till he got his own."
Arnold has just completed a new album for fall release that finds him integrating the new freedom he's found playing live into his sound, and it features a guest appearances by Ellis alongside other vocalists. Compared to last year's Neighborhood Science, Style And Pattern sounds more upbeat and more raw, with a wider palette of influences.
"Every song on the new album started out live. I was travelling around and playing all over, developing the songs in front of audiences. It helped me get perspective on what moves a dance floor.
"It also has a lot more guitar than the last. I use a MIDI guitar to play the keyboard parts and the bass lines. I started doing it around two years ago, when I was on tour with Amp Fiddler. Before, I'd always felt like I was holding back, because I'm not really a keyboard player. Now I can trigger any sound I want."
Using MIDI guitar interfaces to trigger synths and samplers isn't a new technology, but it hasn't been too prevalent in underground music. Yet when you take into account the fact that the mythical TB303 bass synth was originally developed to accompany one-man-band bar performers before its eerie squeal and robotic sequencer were appropriated for use in techno and acid house, maybe it's not that odd that Arnold has managed to infuse it with a bit of cool.