Versus is a long-gestating audio document of the collaboration between Detroit techno luminary Carl Craig, pianist Francesco Tristano, and French orchestra Les Siècles, conducted by François-Xavier Roth. All the aforementioned musicians (along with Germany's Moritz von Oswald, who serves as "spiritual advisor" for this recording) premiered Versus on-stage in 2008, reportedly to five standing ovations. Instead of taking the easy way out and just releasing a recording of the concert, Craig and company spent nearly a decade working on this album, taking full advantage of the capabilities of the recording studio. The orchestrations are rich and expressive yet intricate and fine-tuned, and they provide a hefty kick when necessary. The brass arrangements, particularly on tracks like "Darkness" and "Sandstorms," are sharp and heavy, and often seem far more disarming than the electronic low-end. While drum machines are present, they only seem to be utilized when necessary. Pieces will often suspensefully build up for several minutes before a beat gallops in, but it never resembles the predictable build-up-and-drop formula of most mainstream club music. Even though the album consists primarily of well-known tracks by Craig (no stranger to revisiting his back catalog) as well as a few compositions by the techno-informed Tristano, they rearrange them so that they aren't as club-focused. Craig's timeless remix of Maurizio's "Domina" is given an orchestral makeover here, and at first it seems almost unrecognizable without its vocal sample or thumping beats. The supremely blissful feeling isn't quite re-created here, either; instead, it draws out the track's wistful undercurrent, and makes it a bit darker and more dramatic. The Versus interpretation of "At Les" works in a similar mode, starting off with an extended drone before the track's haunting, cascading melody is given the symphonic translation it seemed to have been written for. "The Melody" was originally written and performed as a solo piano piece by Tristano, but it seemed to have a rhythmic propulsion inspired by the jazzier side of house, and Craig's memorable remix expanded on that. The Versus iteration of the piece goes even further, creating a swirling, spacy piece of club tango. Versus certainly seems like a project that was labored over for such a long time, and it ends up being entirely worth it. It sounds seamless and organic, and avoids the novelty aspect of Jeff Mills' Blue Potential, recorded live with the Montpellier Philharmonic Orchestra in 2005 (which is still enjoyable, but feels a little contrived and ends up sounding like a techno adaptation of Disney's Fantasia).
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AllMusic Review by Paul Simpson