The Mind of Traxman

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The Mind of Traxman is the fourth full-length artist album of Chicago footwork music to be released by Planet Mu -- following estimable efforts from DJ Nate, DJ Roc, DJ Diamond -- and in many respects, it follows a similar template, offering up a potentially numbing, hour-long barrage of hypnotic, stutter-filled tracks which slice and dice a kaleidoscopic array of sample sources. But Traxman, aka Cornelius Ferguson -- a scene veteran whose bona-fides stretch back at least to a 1996 12" released on legendary ghetto house label Dance Mania -- definitely sets himself apart from the pack here. The album's title could be seen as a subtle clue to the difference: juke and footwork have always been much more about the body than the mind, but Traxman tends to hone in on the music's more thoughtful, meditative qualities, inviting characterizations like "smooth," "mellow," and "mature," which might seem antithetical to footwork's characteristically frantic assault. That's not to say he's averse to the kind of gonzo dancefloor energy that's practically the genre's raison d'être: look no further than the relentless vocal needling of the thumpy, demented "Callin All Freaks," the pummeling, self-explanatory 303 acid of "1988," or the hyped-up, archetypically "mindless" rawk cheese of the AC/DC-flipping "Let There Be Rockkkkk." But even when he's wreaking haywire havoc on the stutter cuts, even when he's dealing out machine-gun hi-hats and rat-a-tat snares with hedonistic abandon, Traxman achieves a level of fluidity in his kineticism that's rare among footworkers. (Refreshingly, he eschews the woozily disorienting pitching up and down of samples that's a hallmark of many footwork producers.) And whether he's futzing with Prince (goofball finale "Lifeeeee Is Forever"); wiry throwback funk ("Setbacks"); symphonically lush '70s soul (the vibrant, stirring "I Need Some Money"); smoothed-out jazz ("Lady Dro," "Chilllll" -- gotta love that enthusiastic approach to spelling); muezzin-style Arabic vocals ("Going Wild"), or the feathery kalimbas and darting synths of the gorgeous, perfectly titled opener "Footworkin on Air," Traxman's omnivorous selection of source material never feels like mere eclecticism for the sake of novelty, but rather a means of presenting the music in the context of its rightful lineage, with a consciousness of and active involvement with the broader, wide-ranging African-American cultural vernacular. Without jettisoning the basic stylistic minimalism and scarcity of artistic means which makes footwork such a thrillingly raw, blunt, and immediate form, Traxman manages to subtly expand and redefine the possibilities of the genre -- or at least, of what we've come to expect from these Planet Mu footwork full-lengths (whose consistent quality is growing dangerously easy to take for granted) -- offering a bounty for the soul and mind as well as the ears and feet.

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