Jeff Mills, pioneer of Detroit techno in the 1980s, does not rest on his laurels. Solo and joint projects pour forth from him in a multitude of styles, from link-ups with classical orchestras to a forthcoming Detroit-themed collaborative record. The diversity is underpinned by theoretical ideas about making music, such as using drum machines in the same way a drummer plays the drum kit — in real time, rather than relying on pre-programmed sequences.
Mills has described this notion as “a dangerous thing to say, almost forbidden in electronic music”. However, he brings it to life smoothly rather than disruptively on Counter Active. Made under the name The Paradox, the album unites him with Jean-Philippe Dary, a French jazz keyboardist. They met when Mills made Tomorrow Comes the Harvest in 2018 with Tony Allen, the drummer who helped invent Afrobeat in the 1960s. Dary was a session player on the record. He and Mills would improvise together before Allen arrived at the Paris studio. Following the drummer’s death last year, the pair have now developed their own musical partnership.
Opening track “Super Solid” finds both musicians easing their way into a groove, with Mills laying down a slick, restrained beat as Dary vamps away on the keys. The intensity grows as the album progresses, although the core sense is one of space and calm. “Residence” sets abstracted, echoing chords against a solid rhythmic grid. “Ultraviolet” tethers trippy effects to the warm, regular pulse of a bassline. Exploratory music often has a wild, ragged quality; here it sounds self-assured.
‘Counter Active’ is released by Axis Records