- The word "live" appears to have assumed a curious new layer of meaning when referring to electronic artists. Since the advent of Ableton, the twisting of knobs and cueing of pre-recorded loops have been elevated to near virtuoso status, while the illuminated Apple logo has come to symbolise some kind of clubland Stradivarius. It seems a dubious malapropism to me, though thankfully the Live At Robert Johnson incumbents, Arto Mwambe, are as traditional in their loyalty to etymology as they are to house music sounds of yore.
Phillip Lauer and Chris Beisswenger are instrumentalists proper—a rhythm & blues combo for the dance floor—and their entry in the present series takes the title to literal lengths in its conception as a performance. Of course, it's all seamlessly sewn together, but this is an orchestrated jam with Lauer on keys and Beisswenger on beats that features only original material. The results are refreshing and commendable if indeed not wholly satisfying over the course of an hour.
For here we encounter another bone about the proverbial live set: is a performance of dance music ever really suited solely to the repertoire of one artist? This is a culture in which the skill of selection is key. The role of the DJ dominates above all else. Owing largely to the inherently repetitive nature of the music itself, variety is mostly made possible by the ability to convoke different sounds from different sources. One artist with one source is unlikely to fulfil the same requisite, and although Arto Mwambe's gratifying sound does go some way to countering this idea, it does not dispel it entirely.
There are moments of real brilliance: From the ear-melting Daft Punk-esque chords of the intro, through to the finger-clicking piano workout of "Duster FC," acid lines and plucky guitar of "MIDI Vice" and modular pump of "Interlude 1," Lauer and Beisswenger flex their muscles in absorbing fashion over the first half of the set before reaching the climactic heights of "Greatest Love." This is a tour de force in which syrupy chords on their beloved Kurzweil Micro harmonise with a playful walking-bass, while open hats give the foot-shifting drive. An arpeggiated synth tweaked to almost flute-like timbres provides the decoration and shows the duo wheedling the very best out of their equipment.
After this blithe apex, things don't so much go downhill as they plateau. The melodies retain their warmth throughout and the '90s-derivative beats remain just as taut; it's simply that after half an hour of the same straight 808 kick and kindred catalogue of sounds, your ear begins to wander. Perhaps some vocal work would have added the extra dimension; perhaps starting the set in the second half would leave the same impression as the first; or perhaps, in actual fact, the live medium isn't altogether compatible with dance music after all, despite Arto Mwambe's otherwise admirable case for the defence.
01. Intro (M.T.A.I.)
02. Duster FC
03. MIDI Vice
04. Interlude 1 (Home Strainer)
05. Greatest Love
06. N "No R" G
07. Interlude 2 (Winter Hut)
08. Ohm Balance
09. One Lonely Knight
10. Love Lift